Top Tips for Volunteers

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Volunteering overseas is a wonderful way to contribute something and to learn more about other people and places, and yourself; but you will have to work at it. In order to get the most out of your experience, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Think about your motivations for going overseas and consider how they link to your expectations of your placement. This can help you to choose a suitable sending agency.
  • Think about the bigger picture, consider the issues that will inform the context in which your placement will take place.
  • Be realistic about what you can achieve.
  • Speak with former volunteers before you go and fellow volunteers when you are away. Their experiences can be very helpful for informing your own.
  • Learn some local language. A few words will get you a long way!
  • Spend time researching your host country and get to know as much as you can about the culture and history while you are there.
  • Don’t allow yourself to get worn-out. Give yourself time to relax and ensure that you are getting enough sleep and looking after your health.
  • Try to reserve judgement of different cultural practices. Be willing to accept other ways of doing things and allow your own cultural assumptions to be challenged.
  • Ask lots of questions! Start by questioning the sending organisation before you go. If they cannot provide you with the answers you need then look for another organisation. On your placement, keep asking questions. If you don’t understand something, ask! If the answers don’t align with your expectations, be patient and take time to explore the reasons why and realise that understanding others involves allowing your own perception to be changed.
  • A large part of being a volunteer is about forging relationships with others. Your volunteering experience will be far richer if you make an effort to forge good relationships with local people and fellow volunteers.
  • Be prepared that you might not receive a warm welcome from everyone you meet.
  • Be cautious of how your behaviour will be perceived by your host community and be aware that the impression you make will inform how people think about your host country and other volunteers in the future.
  • As far as possible, try to keep your eyes and mind open.
    Read the Dochas Code of Conduct on Images and Messages and consider the impact of the photos that you take and the messages you put across.
  • Stay connected with home, join Comhlámh or sign up to receive e-link, Comhlámh’s monthly email newsletter to keep up to date with the development sector in Ireland.
  • Refer back to the Volunteer Charter for further guidance and advice during your placement.
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