Reaching the Heart of a Culture through Volunteering

Articles from Philippines Tacloban City, Philippines | Apr 07, 2011

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  With the days still drawing in to an early close, thoughts around the country are wondering to the prospect of travelling abroad, to warmer and more exotic lands.  

With the days still drawing in to an early close, thoughts around the country are wondering to the prospect of travelling abroad, to warmer and more exotic lands. A retreat, a trek, a beach holiday, whatever your drive to get through the cold months I’m sure it’s there, looming in the back of your mind somewhere. But perhaps your drive through the winter months isn’t the prospect of sun, sea and sand, perhaps it’s finding a new challenge, a new year’s resolution to spur you into action, to push your inner strength that little bit further. Volunteering abroad on a worthwhile and meaningful volunteer project could provide just the challenge.

 

Over the past few years, international volunteering efforts in some of the world’s most needy communities have increased in recognition and exposure, and ultimately this rise of voluntourism has brought with it, positive and negative connotations. To get a true understanding of the width and breadth of all the volunteering options available to you, it is important to dispel a few of the myths which surround volunteering, beginning with the notion of age.

 

For many, volunteering has become synonymous with gap year students taking a break before or after university, and while many volunteers do fall under this category, there are a huge amount more that do not. Take Kaya Responsible Travel for instance, since January 2010 Kaya has sent over 200 volunteers on 2 week to 6 month projects. The minimum age to volunteer is 18, but with parents opening up the opportunity to their children to increase their cultural understanding, volunteers as young as 13 have participated with their parents. This runs to the other spectrum as well and as the old saying goes ‘you’re only as young as you feel’ really does relate to Kaya’s oldest volunteer at a grand age of 79! I’m sure for many it is surprising to hear that last year, Kaya’s average volunteer age was 29, a figure which in the grand scheme of volunteering has risen considerably over the past 20 years.

 

As yoga enthusiasts, discipline, personal development and an openness and maturity are paramount to becoming a successful practitioner. With volunteering it is no different. It is these traits that are most requested in the search for willing volunteers; those who are open and persistent, positive yet determined and intent on challenging their mind and spirit. Ultimately, the factor of utmost importance in selecting a volunteer is to provide continued support to local communities, underprivileged children and poverty-stricken families. Those who have skills in holistic or social care, medicine or healthcare are all valued and highly sought after. Care, time and attention are all undeniably important, but being able to personally travel to those in need and impart your skills and knowledge, this is priceless.

 

Volunteering should not be taken lightly or without your own research. For every genuine volunteer organisation, there are those who exploit charitable and sincere individuals so take your time to find the right project and organisation for you. Volunteering can make a considerable difference to genuine communities in need, so look to trusted organisations who work to strike a balance between donations and financial support while ensuring that the projects at hand are not solely relying on international financial aid. This is to ensure that when volunteer numbers drop off due to political unrest, or natural disasters, the charity, community or NGO are not suffering as a result of little or no foreign input.

 

Volunteering should be about meeting local needs and bringing your assistance to pre-established activities. Where you will be of most use will be dictated by your passions, your background and your skills so do not be afraid to break cultural boundaries by embracing a culture very much alien to your own. In amongst the hustle and bustle of new and foreign communities, are inviting, welcoming and inquisitive people with a thirst for your knowledge, time and care.

Tags: Volunteer , yoga , culture , travel , abroad , work , relaxation

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