Why did you choose to volunteer abroad?
The idea to volunteer abroad had never really crossed my mind until I took my first international trip to Thailand and Vietnam. I spent two weeks traveling around Asia and was heartbroken by the extreme poverty I saw on a daily basis. Yea, we hear about stuff like this all of the time, but it never truly hits you until it is right in front of your face. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it always did and from that point on it was something that never left my mind. I knew then that I definitely wanted to look into volunteering abroad; the question was where exactly I wanted to go.
Did you work through a volunteer organization? How did you choose?
I volunteered through an organization called United Planet. I came across the organization on the Internet as I was searching for non-profits that sent people abroad. United Planet sends people to volunteer in over 35 different countries and places people in many different settings such as schools, hospitals and orphanages. I wanted to make sure that I went with a company that I could fully trust and shared the same interest as I did. After reading many articles and speaking with a few of their travel coordinators, I decided that UP would be a great fit for me!
Where, when and how long did you volunteer?
I volunteered for two weeks in Kigamboni, Tanzania, a small village right outside of the capital city, Dar es Saalam. At first, when I decided that I wanted to go to Africa, I was really unsure of what country I actually wanted to go to. After hearing more about the daily work, living conditions and overall experience, I ultimately decided on Tanzania and it was the best choice I could have ever made.
What was your job while volunteering? A typical day.
It is hard to illustrate what a typical day was like for me because no days were ever the same. Something I learned very quickly was that the people in Tanzania are not as into time management and daily schedules as we are here in the U.S.
Every morning I would walk to the local community center, KCC, and meet up with some of the staff and the other volunteers. Some days we would spend time in the donated computer labs just trying to teach them the basics and other days we would hold workshops for some of the older kids teaching them about social media. One thing that did take place every night was the level two English class. I would sit in during the class and help guide the conversations. On days when there was not much going on at the center, I would volunteer at a local primary school teaching English. No matter what I was doing while I was there, I always felt so appreciated. You could tell how much the kids really loved to learn and that always put a smile on my face.
How did you save/raise the money for your volunteer experience?
When I signed up to volunteer, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to afford any of it on my own. I immediately started brainstorming and thinking of ways I could raise money. United Planet was really helpful and sends all of their volunteers a fundraising packet. They also help you set up an online fundraising page through a website called FirstGiving. I took full advantage of this website! I sent out emails and made daily Facebook posts with the link to my page so people could donate money. This was by far the most successful part of my fundraising. Aside from my page, I also set up fundraising nights with local restaurants where a percentage of all the profits would go towards my trip.
Do you feel your presence and work made a difference?
Absolutely. I feel like going to a country such as Tanzania and doing the things I did is always going to make an impact. Maybe not one that everyone can see, but I will always know in my heart that my time over there meant something to the people I lived with and interacted with on a daily basis. I made a lot of friends that I still speak to who constantly share their love and gratitude. Now that I have spent time there and have a better understanding of what the people need, I definitely plan to go back to as soon as possible and continue to do my part.
Would you recommend volunteering abroad, why or why not?
Volunteering abroad can and will change your life in more ways then you ever thought possible. I think it takes a certain type of person to give up everything you know and are accustomed to and throw yourself into a completely different atmosphere. If you are outgoing, independent, accepting and optimistic then I would say 100%, yes! Volunteering abroad gave me an experience that I will never fully be able to describe in words but it wasn’t always fun. At times, it was hard and there were some points where I was so hot and so tired that I probably could have given up, but I didn’t. It is one of those things where you are either all in or you’re all out and if you’re all in; you will have the time of your life.
What do you know now that you wish you would have know before your volunteer experience started?
There are probably a lot of things I wish I could have known before my trip, but looking back, I don’t think anything I would have been told would have been enough. It would have been helpful to have a better understanding of my day-to-day activities or even my living conditions but some things you really just have to figure out once you get there. I went into the trip knowing my living conditions would be less than ideal, but they were worse then I had expected. I was told I would have running water and I didn’t. I was told I would have electricity, which I did, but it was very sporadic. These are things that you really can’t understand until you are actually there and living it.
Any additional information you would like to share?
Be open. If you decide that volunteering abroad is something you want to peruse, you have to learn to be open to your surroundings and always be patient. That is something I cannot stress enough. There will probably be times where you get frustrated or are in a situation you might not feel extremely comfortable with, but in the end, it will all be worth it. While I was in Tanzania, something a good friend said to me, on what seemed like a daily basis was “Hakuna Matata,” which means “no worries.” This is something that I tried to embrace each and every day while I was abroad and it was a constant reminder to always be patient and go with the flow, there was no need for the fast paced way of life we are so accustomed to here in the U.S.
Do you have a volunteer abroad experience you would like to share? Please email email@example.com to be featured.