What to know before volunteering overseas

© Naomi Liz, Roaming the Americas (used with permission)

An exciting thing as an amateur blogger is when a blogger you admire asks you to collaborate on an article. Recently I decided to wade into the blogger world and share my volunteer/travel experiences since leaving the US. In this time, Don’t Forget To Move became a blog I’ve really enjoyed following. I love that they pair traveling with sustainable volunteering. They have a large following and are quite popular, but still have that approachability that other big blogs sometimes loose. So when they approached me earlier this month about collaborating on an article with them, I jumped at the chance.

The writers at Don’t Forget to Move asked me to contribute one piece of advice that I wish I knew before heading overseas. In the article, I would be collaborating with some of the best in the travel and volunteer blogging world. All of the easy things popped into mind first: culture shock, wanting to go home…. But, I’ve been at this for over a year and a half now. I wanted to give something that myself now (not a fresh volunteer) wishes I knew before I came. I decided to dig in deep and go for something this is harder to talk about. We can’t save everyone. As a missionary or international volunteer, these are words you do not say. You have faith in your work and the vision of the organization you’re assisting.

But, putting optimism and hope aside, you’re faced with this ugly truth. You can’t save everyone. It’s not your fault. It’s not that the organization isn’t working hard enough or doing enough good. Sometimes things happen and people fall through. Sometimes people don’t want the help. As a volunteer and an organization, we need to always be there for these people. But, we can’t beat ourselves up either when they don’t want to work the program and lift themselves up. Remember: we want to give hand-ups not handouts. Handouts don’t create sustainable change. But, a hand-up does. 

Collaborating with some of the best

So, please head over to Volunteering Guides to check out my portion of the article and all of the other great advice that other bloggers have to know before you volunteer abroad.