Let's face it volunteer work is very rewarding for...you! If you're thinking about travelling abroad and becoming a volunteeer in a third world country then take a long hard look at your reasons for volunteering.
I lived as a volunteer in Togo, West Africa for just over a year. It was a fantastic experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It opened my eyes to what really goes on in Africa (in particular West Africa), and showed me how resilient the people are faced with extreme poverty, malaria, HIV/AIDS, corrupt politicians and a multitude of other issues. It's a very difficult place to live.
The people put on a brave face and welcome you in with open arms into their lives. There seems to be no end to the amount of food they pile on to your plate despite having very little themselves.
They admire the fact that you've come hundreds if not thousands of miles to show your support, and the idea that a foreigner has come so far to see them lifts their spirits despite their suffering.
Make no mistake don't expect to change their way of life by your mere presence.
The majority of young volunteers I met from around the globe tried desperately to change the way the local people ate, how they managed their meagre finances, how they related to their loved ones, and even their political situation. All based on their own Western viewpoints. They invariably left West Africa frustrated.
Instead of building houses and schools in Third World countries like a lot of volunteers seem to do nowadays why not give the money to some local people who are in desperate need of a job and a skill like carpentry.
Although the finished product (a school or church) benefits the community it doesn't need a rich Westerner to come along and build it for them. That doesn't mean you can't stand by and offer guidance and support.
The only people that can offer real, measurable assistance in Africa are doctors and nurses. If you don't possess these skills then don't be disappointed if you can't help in more ways.
I'm not saying you shouldn't volunteer. Instead go in with an open mind, absorb the experience, establish friendships, and leave with a new found knowledge of how people live.
Things to take to Africa as a volunteer
OK. You've read through what I have just written and you're still determined to go.
What should you take?
- An open mind
- Malaria medication (doxycycline worked well for me)
- Lots and lots of passport photos
- Games to play with the kids. Face painting is always a hit.
- The most expensive mosquito net you can afford.
- A decent camera
- A spare email account. You will be bombarded with requests for your email.
- Spare credit cards, travellers cheques, cash. A lot of ATMs don't work.
With these items packed away you'll have no problems travelling around such an amazing continent. Good luck and God speed!