When considering traveling for an international volunteer trip, we believe there's a right way to do it! There are many options for individuals eager to make a difference abroad. We have compiled a list of eight ethical practices to consider before serving overseas to keep your efforts sustainable, helpful, and conscientious.
Volunteering abroad begins with finding the right organization and the right location.
Find an organization, consider if they're reputable, and learn what they do. Do they work long-term in these locations? Are they trustworthy when it comes to safety? Will they be the experts in helping you plan your logistics?
Determine where your international travel will take you. Knowledge is power; educate yourself on the current, pressing needs in potential destinations. Do your best to understand cultural norms, economic situations, government stability, and public health needs. The World Health Organization (WHO) is one example of where to start your research.
2. Question your Intentions
We do this a lot! What is the desire behind your interest in volunteering?
Is it to create positive change in the lives of others? Is it to gain cultural or medical exposure in an international setting? By understanding your intentions you'll be more equipped to find the right opportunity of service.
We question our intentions in all that we do. After seeing a need, it's easy to want to jump in and "fix things." Although intentions may be great, in another setting "fixing things" may look completely different. For instance, bringing give-away shirts to a community that may seem to need clothing can seem like a harmless act of generosity. However, there is likely a tailor in that community, who will be put out of business if their clothing customers are given free clothes. By questioning our intentions we are better able to choose action that's making a positive, lasting impact.
3. Follow your strengths!
You've got skills. Use them to help others!
If you're a trained professional, assisting a community abroad can involve relaying medical knowledge to long-term staff. If you're well connected on social media, use your influence to raise money or awareness for a cause you believe in. If you're gifted in teaching, providing health education is a great route for a sustainable impact. Construction projects (if a community asks for it) can also make a lasting impact, like constructing cookstove chimneys in homes for families with respiratory problems.
What are you passionate about? Follow what gets you excited to get involved, and learn from organizations that are working consistently within a given community.
4. Go grassroots
When community projects are built from the ground up, within a community, they are more likely to sustain over time! Pick an opportunity that is run by the community it works with, find programs that maintain a grassroots approach. Organizations that are well established within communities are a great place to start.
5. Be goal focused & S.M.A.R.T.
Projects are most successful when cooperation and participation are at the core. For short-term trips, consider participating in a larger-scale project, something on-going. Long-term projects often need extra hands to help reach their program goals.
Follow the S.M.A.R.T. Acronym for Goal Setting:
- Specific (simple, sensible, significant).
- Measurable (meaningful, motivating).
- Achievable (agreed, attainable).
- Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based).
- Time bound (time-based, time limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).
If community goals are S.M.A.R.T. and are decided by a community, we know they will be more likely to be met!
6. Involve your circles
Those who care about you, also care about the causes you believe in!
Many volunteers within our FIMRC Family have had their neighbors, friends, & relatives support their international service financially. Additionally they’ve provided needed supplies for programs on the ground. Early communication with site staff will be helpful in deciding on sustainable, needed donations.
Traveling to serve is exciting! Let those around you soak up your excitement before and after your trip.
7. Keep an open mind
Prepare for the unexpected.
All international volunteer experiences, especially new ones, come with a component of the unknown! Be prepared to be flexible and optimistic. Having a rigid plan for your experience may hinder your impact potential.
Be open to receive as well as give. Acknowledge the cultural commonalities along with the differences. Be prepared to gain perspectives you didn't know existed. You may get to see first-hand how your program donation directly improved the lives of community members. Leave expectations at home, and remember to soak up every moment of the experience.
8. Stay involved!
Your impact doesn't have to stop upon your arrival back home.
Travel fosters personal connections to programs, families, and communities abroad. Allow your experiences to have a lasting influence in your life. There are many ways to stay involved, especially when it comes to issues you are passionate about!
We have seen so many lives improve as a result of efforts by our staff and volunteers. If you are interested in making an ethical impact abroad, consider researching the programs FIMRC has to offer below: