Over recent years, an increasing amount of research into the mental-health benefits of volunteer work has emerged.
Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, where mental wellness and mental health are being so widely discussed, acts of doing good for others seem more important than ever – and the effects are felt in multiple ways.
It has been said that doing good for someone else interrupts tension-producing patterns in the brain and replaces them with a sense of purpose, positive emotion and higher confidence levels, and that people who volunteer feel a greater sense of satisfaction with their lives and consider their health generally better than those who do not.
You can build long lasting meaningful friendships:
A volunteer holiday is a fabulous way to meet people, especially if you’re traveling solo, as you will usually be a part of a larger group during activities on the projects. The uniqueness of the experiences can help you foster lasting and meaningful friendships with fellow volunteers from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, and it’s an opportunity to learn about different cultures from all over the world. However, volunteer vacations are not just for the singletons – couples and families are welcome too (and most voluntourism organisations will offer options for group bookings.
Volunteering abroad together is a great way to strengthen relationships and spend quality time working together with those close to you.
You can enjoy an incredible experience for less money:
Volunteer vacations are often more inexpensive than your usual tourist package. Sharing accommodation with other volunteers (often fully catered) is much cheaper than spending your time in hotels in popular tourist areas and eating out at restaurants every night. However, bear in mind that accommodations can differ, so a volunteer needs to be realistic – you can’t always expect 5-star luxury when working in a rural location.
Another advantage of volunteering is that people you know may be willing to sponsor your trip, as it will be for a good cause. Using crowdfunding platforms, you could fundraise up to 100 percent of your travel costs and volunteering fees, while raising awareness of the projects and causes you are supporting in the process.
Therése Forssell is the Global Head of PR, communications & Events at Star Stable.
Therése previously taught in China and found the experience rewarding and inspiring. She explains ‘I received a scholarship from SIDA to study in China. There I met amazing people who took me to the old village Beichuan, that in 2008 had a horrible earthquake where many people died and many children lost their parents. The city was moved/ rebuilt in another area and the Beichuan village was kept as it was, so when I went there, I knew I had to help. I got involved with a few of the orphans in the new village. While I was there, I played with the kids, taught them English, and supported in any way I could.
I have gained a lot from this experience. Never take life, family and friends for granted. I have learnt how much just a shoulder to cry on and good role models means to a small child. Back then I didn’t have kids of my own, so it has been a powerful journey to see how much impact my small actions had on these children’s lives.
The language barrier was the biggest challenge but it is amazing how easy it is to overcome this with kids; they always find ways to communicate.’
Tips for starting volunteering:
• First, ask yourself if there is something specific you want to gain from the experience.
• Meet people who are different from me
• Try something new
• Spend my spare time in other ways
• Experience a different way of life and new places
• Attempt the type of work I might want to do as a job
• Expand my interests and hobbies
• Use what I excel in to make a difference
The best way to volunteer is to match your personality and interests. Having answers to these questions will help you narrow down your search.
You can assist individuals in empowering themselves:
Adding to the self-empowerment of people can make your time abroad more meaningful.
You can volunteer on a community development program that works towards the self-empowerment of local people.
This may include contributing to public health awareness in communities, assisting people to learn English to up their employability, or you could run workshops with women to assist in the development of their professional skills and help increase their job prospects.
Volunteering abroad with a responsible volunteer organisation like GVI allows you to travel with a purpose. It makes it possible for you to reduce your social and ecological footprint by taking part in activities that are both ethical and sustainable.
Before deciding on a program, ask yourself the following questions:
How will it benefit the local community?
Does the organisation respect the local culture?
What is the reason behind your volunteering trip?
What challenge will the end product assist in addressing?
Experiencing life goes beyond watching and wondering – it is about engaging, adventuring, and exploring. It is about all the people you meet and the memories you make along the way. From rewarding moments on project sites to weekends exploring with fellow volunteers, volunteering is an incredible way to experience life in its fullness.
It is emotionally and physically satisfying to step out of our comfort zone and see what life has to offer whilst helping other individuals and communities.