A lot of people ask me how they can volunteer overseas. Individuals say they want to give back, meet people and immerse themselves in a new culture. They say they are willing to do anything but when I question this they usually say they want to teach English to children, help out at an orphanage or build communities centres. There are two problems I have with this. First, volunteering requires specific skills and experience and second, there are plenty of ways to give back here at home.
Volunteering is the trendy thing to do and often people get so caught up in the idea of being a volunteer that they forget its purpose – to give your time to help a person or community.
The emphasis here is on help. Many individuals I’ve spoken to don’t realise that they could actually be doing damage due to their lack of skills and experience. Teaching English sounds sexy and leaving your mark on this world in the form of a newly built structure sounds cool but that doesn’t mean you’ve got the ability to do the task well. Often we find ourselves wanting to try things we can’t do easily at home and look to volunteering to fulfill these desires but we forget to ask ourselves an important question – If I can’t just walk into a school and teach in Australia why can I do it in Thailand? If you answer yourself honestly you will realise it’s because you don’t have the skills and experience needed to teach. You have a responsibility to ensure your actions don’t do any damage. Stick to what you know and make sure if you do decide to volunteer you really are doing good.
Often the best place to start volunteering is at home.
While it may not be as adventurous and exciting compared to working overseas it can be just as rewarding. If you do your research you will find volunteering opportunities that require limited skills and experience but offer you a chance to meet people and even immerse yourself culturally. Often people are inspired to volunteer overseas after learning about human rights violations or after a natural disaster but we forget these issues are also happening here in Australia. The Black Saturday Bushfires and recent outrage surrounding asylum seeker’s Right to Work is a fine example of this. Then there are the ongoing issues such as unemployment, homelessness and poverty. For example there are currently 105,237 people in Australia who are homeless. While I think it’s good to want to help those overseas I think we need to be careful not to forget those that need our help and attention at home.
One organisation I have worked with is Scarf a Melbourne-based, not-for-profit (NFP) social enterprise that is adding a little flavour and heart into the hospitality industry.
Scarf provides hands-on training, mentoring and employment to marginalised youth, including refugees and asylum seekers, who may not otherwise have the opportunity. I interviewed Hannah Colman the co-founder last year. What I love about Scarf is that it has a few different ways people can volunteer and recognises the value of volunteers. Skilled and knowledgeable people in the hospitality industry can become mentors and those of us that love eating and drinking with friends (that’s a skill right?) can participate in Scarf dinners where trainees have the opportunity to practice their skills. Diners are then encouraged to provide feedback on their dining experience, which is used to further help trainees. This is a great example of how individuals can give back through volunteering as well as meeting people and engaging with their community.
If you ever consider volunteering I would encourage you to think about what you can realistically do with your skills and expertise and if there is someway you can help at home first. And remember there are many different good volunteering opportunities, some not as sexy as others because there’s more to helping people than the way you look.
Featured images from Scarf.