Senior Volunteering: When You're Young at Heart
In some countries, more than 50% of women say they would like to volunteer after their formal working lives are over.
While there are plenty of volunteer opportunities close to home, many women are looking for volunteer work overseas.
Age no longer determines everything we do.
How realistic is volunteering for senior citizens?
Extremely realistic. In fact, a growing number of volunteer schemes are removing the upper age limits (though they maintain the lower age limits of 18 or 21).
As long as you're healthy - and yes, that does seem to be a requirement in most if not all cases - finding volunteer work in your 60s, 70s and beyond is becoming easier every day.
Senior volunteers as a group have different needs and aspirations than 20-year-olds, so if you're an aspiring volunteer, you should keep these in mind when you search for your placement.
Here are some of the questions you should be asking yourself before you volunteer:
- How strenuous is the work? Will I be able to handle it? If it involves carrying heavy loads or climbing steep hills, make sure you've in great physical shape.
- Can I easily get medical care? Bones break and emergencies arise. You should be able to get to a medical facility in reasonable time.
- How well am I insured? If you don't have private medical or travel insurance, get some. If your health is less than optimal, you may have to rely on your own national health insurance, or on the project's insurance if it provides it. Accidents or repatriation can be excruciatingly expensive so I wouldn't consider a volunteering stint without some solid insurance.
- How will my skills be used as a senior volunteer? After a lifetime of work you may have developed some pretty extraordinary skills. While most people can wield a hammer, not everyone can build a website, design a road or wire a house for electricity. See if you can match your life of experience with local needs.
- What are my goals at this stage of life? Your goals should match your posting. If you've developed a strong commitment to the environment, make sure your organization is green. Do you want to learn a new skill? Work with young people? Make new friends? Leave a legacy? Feel productive? These should all be foremost in your thinking.
- What challenges am I facing and how can they be overcome? Do you have a physical or mental disability, phobias, allergies, financial issues or other challenges? Make sure you identify them early on and resolve them.
- Can I talk to someone? Find someone who has volunteered in your scheme through the organization. Don't even think of losing yourself somewhere in the world without first speaking to a returning senior volunteer. What the brochures and websites say may have little bearing on conditions on the ground.
- How does my family feel about it? If they're supportive, that's great. All you'll have to worry about is keeping in touch while you're away. If not, you'll have to start working on them soon - senior volunteering has its own challenges and you don't need to carry guilt from home. Try to resolve issues before you go, and bring your family into your decision as early as you can.
Volunteering is usually a two-step process: first, the idea appears, and then something triggers the action. This can be anything - a returning friend, a request from someone, information from another source.
Senior Volunteer Opportunities
These senior volunteer programs may place you free of charge
World Volunteer Web
Archaeological Institute of America
United Nations Volunteers - for long-term, skilled volunteers
IESC - for Americans
CESO - for Canadians
These organizations will ask you to contribute financially to your placement
Global Service Corps
And if these resources aren't enough, you can check your churches and other places of worship for faith based volunteering opportunities, many of which have volunteering opportunities for retired women.