Volunteering in countries and with projects that help the disadvantaged and destitute is a noble and admirable pursuit. Thousands of young people from all walks of life set aside a few ...weeks or months of their lives to visit a project somewhere usually in a 3rd world country for the purpose of making the world a better place. And if it was just that easy we would all be very happy campers.
As a founder and president of an NGO in Peru, Changes for New Hope, (www.changesfornewhope.org) I have seen both sides of volunteering. I have been a volunteer when I first came to Peru, worked with an NGO that was ...¨less than I expected.¨ Considering that each volunteer was paying $500 a month, one was hard pressed to determine if the NGO existed for the benefit of the children or for ulterior motivations. I left after just four months. Of course, there are good and bad in every avenue of life.
The flip side of volunteering can be just as disturbing. Imagine setting up an NGO in the Peruvian Andes that is designed to help children in unimaginable destitution. It is what I did with my own life savings because I believe that this project was important enough to merit my full time, attention and support. Not to throw flowers at myself but I live, eat and breathe Changes for New Hope. To make this project the success it should be, it will take more help, in short, volunteers. Serious inquiries only.
While having volunteers arrive is simply a matter of asking for them, the issue comes in the form of volunteers who are...shall we say .. less that fully committed to the project. Everyone has a great first week. It is important to remember that the second week and beyond is just as urgent for you to be there. There will be distractions of every sort from exciting adventures that will last a week away from the project to the Siren´s Calls. A temptation that is too great to resist for some.
Volunteering is a responsibility. The first of which is to make sure that the NGO or project you are considering is genuine and focused on its stated objectives. The second responsibility is to be the kind of volunteer that the project will remember as well as the children and staff that you came to help. Treat it as you would a well paying job. Be on time. Make yourself as valuable to the project as you possibly can be. Support its objectives. You will get out of your volunteering experience what you put into it. Nothing more and nothing less. The attitude that you approach the opportunity is extremely important. There will most likely be some sort of volunteer fees which helps to keep the project running. NGOs with exorbitant fees should be a red flag to you. Fair is a two way street. Pay the fees and be glad that you can help the project this way as well.
Your tourism part of your journey, and there should definately be a time to explore the country and culture you are in, should commence either before or after your time volunteering. When people are counting on you, you need to be there everyday for them.
Lastly, remember to stay in touch with the project after you have ended your time with them. You are not going to change the world in the month that you are there, but you can share your story, your experience and the project with others on your social websites that you belong to. This is called Virtual Volunteering. That reach is far greater than the project could do on its own. Support it financially if you can. Send a letter every so often to let them know you still fondly remember the time you spent there. You went there to do humanitarian work. Be a humanitarian and continue to make the world a better place.
It is a never ending adventure if it is your focus. And it is the most rewarding work that I could ever recommend to anyone. I know, I have been here for years doing it and I never plan on leaving Changes for New Hope, Peru or the deep feeling of purpose that this life has given me.