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Volunteer Abroad and Make a Difference!

Has it ever crossed your mind to volunteer abroad?

Trekking through the Himalayas or boating down the Amazon have their charms.

But if you're looking for a more meaningful travel experience, you could go on international voluntary missions: work for free in a Guatemalan orphanage, help conserve endangered sea turtles on the Brazilian coast, or build a well in Malawi.

Not only would you be seeing the world - you'd be helping improve ittoo!

What kind of woman is this for? Any woman! Married, single, mother, daughter, grandmother, gay, old, young, disabled... Charity and NGO programs are for absolutely everyone - it's just a question of choosing the right organization.

Why would you want to volunteer?

Why would anyone take the hard road, work many hours a day, possibly under a hot sun or heavy rain, live in rustic or even difficult circumstances, when the beach beckons?

Here are just some reasons why a sensible woman might do so:

  • It can stretch your mind, give you a new perspective on the world
  • You may develop a more active spiritual life
  • Or help fight injustice and poverty
  • Learn about new cultures from the inside
  • Give back something to society in gratitude for what you have
  • Give your life some more purpose
  • Get some valuable professional experience
  • See places no tourist will ever see
  • Meet people you would not normally meet and make new friends for life
  • Declutter your life: shift from material abundance to soulful simplicity
  • Learn valuable lessons from your host community
  • Or simply, get away from it all...

What kind of person should you be?

It can be hard work - that's the point, after all. Whether sweeping the ground on an archeological dig or providing counseling to out-of-school youth, you're not expected to be 'on holiday' during your stay.

You may stay with a family, which can make this different from your usual travel experience. You could be in a rural African village or a teeming Asian slum. You could be anywhere! It's a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in the world and help others - and the experience will last far beyond your volunteering stint.

While volunteering is for anyone, perhaps not everyone should. You do need a certain amount of maturity, not in age but in mind and spirit.

You'll need to be flexible - this isn't a guided tour and what the brochure says - swaying palms, nearby beach - may be quite different from reality - dust-filled roads, oppressive heat, long hours of work...

You'll have to learn patience and leave your watch behind. In an hour may well mean tomorrow, and things don't happen everywhere the way you might be used to at home.

You'll learn to appreciate the simple things in life - spending time with an older woman, reading to a young girl, simple tasks that provide simple pleasures. Nor is it all about results... often, it is just about getting there. Be cool. Be open, respectful and tolerant.

Above all, be committed. If you sign up for a project, please see it through. Your inconvenience may be someone else's lifeline. You may find conditions slightly unpleasant and want to leave. Your departure could be life-threatening to your host community so please try to complete your commitment and think very carefully before cutting it short.

Just remember - you'll be joining a community as an equal - a friendly and helpful one but an equal nonetheless. Just because you're willing to help doesn't make you in any way better than the people you are helping.

It's good to get the attitude right from the start!

Doing your research

If you feel the this is how you'd like to see the world, you'll be helping to make a difference. Even if you only give a small portion of time, you'll be making a huge difference in people's lives - and quite probably in your own.

And you'll be joining the thousands of women who see volunteering as a valid alternative to tourism or travel.

Once you've chosen your program, it's time to pack those bags.

The basics of travel planning are the same as for backpacking. Lets hit the road!

The sheer number of web resources is staggering so I did a bit of a tour. These are sites others have mentioned but as always, don't take anyone's word - including mine - and do your own resarch, make your own decisions, and above all, enjoy your adventure.

You'll be making a difference!

Global Hand
Alliance of European Voluntary Service Organizations 
UNESCO Coordinating Committee
Transitions Abroad
World Volunteer Web
The Idealist
One World
An excellent book on volunteering is Kirsty Henderson's Underground Guide to International Volunteering.

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