What is volunteering?

Volunteering is a contribution of your free time and your resources to a cause, need or mission that you believe in without gaining financial benefits.

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The precise date of establishing the concept is difficult to do. The word comes from Latin “voluntarius”, meaning “of one’s will”. In French, however, the word is  “volontaire” and was used as a reference to doing voluntarily the military service.

Technically, even one in all our ancestors might be thought of as the primary volunteer. The one helped build a fireplace for his neighbor from a close-by cave, not expecting something reciprocally.

The first traces of volunteering can be observed already in medieval times in Britain, that is 12th and 13th centuries by helping those sick and poor. However, the establishment of bigger institutions such as the first Volunteer House in Philadelphia (1736) or the YMCA (1844) started to give frames to the concept.

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The promotion of voluntary unpaid work began within the days of the man of science and it had different paths across the world.

There was a big influence of American Non-Governmental Organizations such as the Rotary Club or Red Cross that spread around the world with the aim of serving others.

Currently, there are thousands of volunteer organizations around the world that aim to contribute to the bigger cause or simply that benefit the individuals who seek help from others.

Let’s say you wish to travel to South America. You find a host who needs help in their avocado farm. Since you know a lot about avocados you decide to volunteer and help them out. You offer your work and knowledge – you’re fed and have provided an area to sleep.

Some flip volunteering into a way of life, traveling from continent to continent in exchange for their cooking or carpentry skills.

Categories of Volunteering

According to the newest UN Volunteer report, there are 5 categories of volunteering:

Mutual Aid – person-to-person helping activities where people volunteer as response to the needs of a certain group or community.

Service – volunteers respond to the perceived needs of another person.

Campaigning – collective action of a group or an individual to strengthen the voices of the “marginalized” and change the status quo.

Participation – participants give their time to engage in working with governance and decision making mechanisms.

Leisure – these are the volunteer activities that express the interests of participants such as art, sport, and culture. They still contribute to the wider well-being.

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Where to begin?

The first question you need to ask yourself is what you know and can do, and how you want to contribute to society. Define the outcomes you want to achieve. It is important to define your competencies, skills, and interests so you don’t get involved in an activity that drains all energy out of you. Perhaps in childhood, you dreamed of turning into a clown and making youngsters happy, or you wished to ride horses and care for them, but your oldsters forbade you? Or you have long wished to work in European Commission and talk Italian like Adriano Celentano?

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The second step is to do research about organizations that seek volunteers. Find the organization that interest you the most and is clear about their goals and outcomes of having volunteers. Research all the locals and abroad organizations that you think you can contribute too, but also that can teach you something. You can use the websites that help find you volunteering opportunities such as Volunteer Match, Workaway, or WWOOF.

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The third step is to talk about the time and the format you’d like to volunteer for. It can be volunteering once per week in your local community or in the animal shelter, or once per month during a big event. However, it could be a long-term volunteering during the Erasmus Solidarity Corps from 2-12 months. It’s all up to you, but it’s important to define your availibility.

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The last step is to prepare the application. Treat it seriously as if you were applying for a job. Prepare yourself, and prepare the questions for the organizations. It is your time to ask about the expectations, opportunities, and rules.

If you are accepted then congratulations, that’s a step toward becoming a better person!

If that’s needed you will have to go through preparation or some type of training. Depending if you are volunteering locally or internationally you might have to prepare all the documents, as well as flight tickets. The adventure begins!

And of course, never feel any pressure to leave an organization if you don’t feel well there.

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What is expected from volunteers?

what is volunteering

multiethnic group of volunteers putting food and drinks in paper bags for charity

Remember that as a volunteer you are usually not expected to be a professional. That’s why it is important to be clear about your skills and competencies in the first place.  Certain level of knowledge or simply the motivation to learn should be enough!

Bring new ideas, habits, and your own vibe to the place. This is often why volunteers are needed. The new ideas can help to reshape the current style of working in the organization. Be yourself!

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Benefits of volunteering

It is proven that volunteering has many positive effects on the person.

  1. You gain confidence – when contributing to a valuable mission you start to feel powerful about the possibility of change. There is nothing better than the feeling that we can have an impact and actually change something!
  2. You learn new skills, weather they are technical or personal. You might loearn how to paint walls, prepare Peruvian meals, take care of horses, how to behave with the dogs, how to establish a good rapport with children in the classroom, or how to dance a traditional Cypriot dance. If you are open to new experiences and ready to try new things, you will see a huge amount of different skills you acquired!
  3. You will meet a huge number of friends! Probably you won’t be the only volunteer in the place/organization. You will have a chance to meet other volunteers and perhaps become good friends.
  4. It can advance your career! Volunteering can definitely help you with getting experience in your field or make connections that would help you to find a job later on.
  5. Feel how it is to be a part of the community. Engage and contribute while living in a completely new environment. Do not compare standards to where you live. If you are volunteering in the animal reservoir in Amazonian, there’s a huge chance you won’t be sleeping in the hotel. Savor the moments!
  6. Last, but not least, volunteering is believed to help you with depression and improve your mental health. Volunteering keeps you social which is proved to reduce depressive episodes. If you are working with animals or pets, it also has benefits for reducing stress.

According to studies among American adults, volunteering is shown to make you happier compared to adults who do not volunteer. Why not give it a go, then?


Difficulties of volunteer work

As we mentioned before, volunteering is amazing, however it is important to be prepared for eventual pitfalls, or difficult situations.

Some of the most common issues volunteers deal with are:

  1. Burnout because of being undervalued, overworked, and stressed. Some treat volunteers as a free labor force, therefore the investigation of the organization/host before coming is crucial!
  2. Disorganization of the managment within the organization. You might not always have very clear tasks, or things to do.
  3. Cultural shock. Depending on where you are volunteering, there is a chance you will experience cultural shock because of the food, living conditions, and rules at the workplace. Have an open mind and try to take everything as a new experience that can only enrich you.

If it gets really bad, there is always a possibility to leave! However, as shown, volunteering has more benefits than disadvantages. Think of what you want to do, do a proper research and dare to volunteer!

If you would like to find interesting project opportunities you can visit our web page Abroadship.org which provides wide range of programmes including: VolunteeringYouth ExchangesSeminarsTraining courses, Internships and many more.

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