It is a major decision to work overseas as a volunteer in a less well developed region of the world. Nevertheless in the vast majority of cases it is a decision which is never regretted as it exposes the volunteer to a life which they would otherwise never have known and it almost always helps to mould the individual into a different person – perhaps one who is less self-centred and more aware of what is going on in the ‘real world’ out there.
The volunteer needs to recognise that they will never ‘save the world’ but that their small input may have distinct life changing consequences for some of the individuals who cross their path. The other crucial issue which needs to be recognised is the fact that in almost every case the volunteer gains far more from the experience than they themselves put into the work and that they learn tremendously from those they will have contact with day by day.
In our 21st century world we hear that ‘patience is a virtue’ but it is not until we get to a place like central Africa where we see it in action! Those considering becoming a volunteer who display little of this essential attribute should perhaps reconsider their calling and look into another avenue for their lives.
Before you leave
The decision is finally made, the destination and scope of work decided, the family are both proud and distinctly distraught – so, what’s next? Well many organisations will insist on a medical certification confirming that you are in good general health, after all nobody wants you sick overseas – least of all you yourself!
Follow this pre-departure health check…
- Checking that the volunteer is in good general medical and psychological health sufficient for their destination.
- Obtaining base-line levels for various simple blood tests so that these are available if sickness occurs and comparisons need to be made.
- Ensuring that required and recommended vaccines are up-to-date for the destination and that issues relating to malaria prophylaxis are clearly understood.
- Organising whatever is required to allow for easy contact between the volunteer and the home medical centre in case medical problems should arise while abroad.
With the availability of the internet and smart phones there are few areas of our planet where contact is impossible. The medical facility the individual was seen in before their trip should provide a full 24/7 contact service in case of emergency. In many situations it is not for a complete emergency but rather just to bounce a few ideas around to try to make a sensible decision on behalf of the volunteer while they are abroad.
Some organisations insist that this medical contact is done via their own medical personnel on the ground or at home in head-office so that they are kept informed of any potential health orientated situation which is understandable. However having the possibility of direct contact with medical personnel at home can at times be life-saving but at the very least may help to abate a major cause for concern.
Arriving into a new situation, surrounded by a new family of other volunteers and often trying to learn a new language (let alone a new set of values and protocols!) is a really daunting task. Exciting as it is, during these first days the individual volunteer may frequently wonder why on earth they decided to leave family and friends back home! The support of their new colleagues is essential and the volunteer needs to learn both patience and pacing. Trying to do too much initially will lead to exhaustion and this may weaken the body and, for instance, allow a mild stomach upset become more serious.
The lack of medical facilities may increase the individuals personal stress levels as they try to convince themselves that they may not actually have contracted a severe fatal bug in their first days in the tropics! In many situations there will be a series of formal or informal orientation sessions with the other members of the team and this allows some semblance of normality to take control. The first night in the tropics is always exciting!
Thank you for reading Volunteering for Work Overseas – Top Tips and Advice. For more information please see Travel Advice – Volunteering for work overseas PDF.