By : Katie Blackbourne
Believe it or not, there are volunteer projects to suit a whole range of skills and interests beyond the stereotypical teaching English or working with animals. And for students, volunteer-sending organizations can often tailor your trip to what you’re studying.
Here are just a few of the things you can do that you might not have realised were an option for volunteering abroad.
From the laboratory to the maternity ward, there are a multitude of opportunities in the area of health work. Whether you’re a student nurse or a retired dentist, your healthcare skills are invaluable. If your expertise is in pharmacology, there are hospitals in Africa that would love to have you in their labs.
Still a student? Volunteering your skills abroad can count towards your undergraduate degree as a medical elective. On top of that you’ll experience illnesses, techniques and cultures you otherwise wouldn’t, which sets you up to stand out on a job application.
When thinking about volunteering abroad, many people consider teaching. But if you don’t have any experience, or are a bit shy, it can be an intimidating prospect. Did you know you can help with education without having to stand up in front of a classroom full of children?
By offering to be a classroom assistant, you can stay out of the spotlight and still make a difference to the pupils. If you’re more comfortable talking to children one-on-one, this could be a rewarding experience for you. Never underestimate the importance of supporting roles!
You probably know about volunteering projects for building schools and houses, but not everyone is aware of all the options for people with engineering and construction backgrounds. For example, building bridges, improving sanitation, and installing plumbing are essential for any community and will offer opportunities for engineers to shine.
With skills and experience in this area, you can help solve problems like classroom layout. You might have experience managing a building team, so you could help with organization. Or perhaps you just love the satisfaction of getting stuck in and getting something built.
Not necessarily a volunteer role on its own, speaking a language other than English is nevertheless going to be useful on a volunteer abroad trip. Whether you have a degree in French, speak a tiny bit of Spanish, or have spoken Arabic from birth, any language competence is a big plus.
Although the majority of volunteer projects will operate in English, speaking another language will help you get the most out of your trip. You’ll be able to shop more easily for food, find your way around quicker, and make a good impression on the locals.
If you’re reading this, you know how to use a computer. Great! That can come in useful on a volunteering trip. Anyone good with the hardware side of things can help to set up IT rooms in schools and show staff how to fix them if something goes wrong.
For the regular internet surfers and casual PC users, you can help to teach the pupils basic computer skills, from pointing the mouse to typing. The more tech-inclined might find projects that teach coding to girls or teach pupils about software.
Have you been a business owner, got a degree in business, held a management position or even simply dabbled in a commercial enterprise at some point in your life? You could find a volunteering role that allows you to engage with local people who want to start a business. You could also help small business owners improve their practices to be more successful. Sometimes it can be the simplest idea, from helping a café owner improve their signage or to helping a business with marketing.
Anyone with accounting and administration experience can be very useful. From profit and loss to invoicing systems. Or anything you can contribute to setting up a business can make a great difference to a family or community, as you’ll be helping them be proactive in generating an income.
Is your skill or interest on this list? If not, don’t be afraid to ask your volunteer-sending organization or project leader if there’s anything available that suits your unique skillset! Most will be delighted to help you find a role in which you can flourish and bring out the best in yourself.
There are many volunteer organizations and online platforms which provide opportunities to use your skills, Original Volunteers offer a semi-structured affordable programme where you can live with a volunteer group whilst branching out each day to make use of your skills. For a more independent experience if you prefer to go it alone, try the sites Workaway and HelpX which connect volunteers directly with communities and hosts without programme fees.
About the author: Katie Blackbourne is currently studying for her Masters Degree in Broadcast Journalism and enjoys writing about the many benefits of volunteering for Original Volunteers. She lives in the United Kingdom and spends her spare times writing fiction and plays.