Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Volunteering


Why would someone want to volunteer to work in a developing country? It's not for the money. To volunteer usually means to work for free and often involves paying for the opportunity.
Perhaps it would be to experience another culture, not as a tourist, but as an accepted member of the community. The volunteer is able to intereact with locals on a very personal level.
Your reason for volunteering is very important because it can mean the difference between a good experience and an unhappy one.
Some of our volunteers at Aba House are fantastic and with some I am reminded of the saying, "You get what you pay for."
One might think that there is a correlation between age, experience and maturity in the making of a good volunteer, but that's not necessarily true. Some young people blossom when given the chance to help and some older people can't handle the adjustment to new curcumstances.
Above all, a sense of humor helps. There are times when I think that the only reason that Ghanaians let visitors in is to have someone to laugh at. An outsider is fair game, especially with children. We've had volunteers eager to practice their new vocabularies...only to find that the children didn't teach them to say what they thought they were saying!
I would also suggest that you have a serious conversation with yourself about your comfort level. Can you live without hot water for a few weeks, and how about electricity? Can you, heavens forbid, wash your clothes by hand? Does it really matter if the humidity curls your hair? If you want a foreign country to be just like home, then maybe you should have stayed at home.
As a volunteer you probably expect to be a teacher. If you approach the experience the right way, you will also be taught. It's a very liberating feeling to meet new people and to see things through their eyes. There's something about working in another enviroment that makes people introspective. This is a good time to evaluate what you want to do with the rest of your life.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "No man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
And if you're a good volunteer, this will be true.

1 comment:

Fiber Focus said...

So true! But, I think this exchange can happen with any community. I spent my first year in Chicago as part of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps and ended up staying for 20 years. It was my first exposure to real poverty in the United States (I grew up overseas and had just gotten out of college). So, any group that is different from what you are used to offers a learning and growth opportunity.

Going to another country that has limited infrastructure and with a completely different culture is definitely more challenging for some people. Choosing to become a minority offers a whole new insight into who we are and what kind of people we want to be.

Great post!