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Vancouver, BC | Posted: February 22nd, 2019
This article covers a brief look at the roots of volunteering, where we are today, and its benefits. Additionally, we look at what to consider, some options and some resources for group administrators looking at building their own group volunteer abroad program.
Historians note that the roots of modern service began in the military. Volunteering was seen as a call of duty; both in the act of war and in the aftermath. As nations at home, and afar, needed to rebuild infrastructure volunteering took on more of community building spirit. The word volunteer is a derivative of the French world ‘voluntair’ meaning – ‘one who offers himself for military service’.
Today, volunteering is an act performed locally and internationally. Although its origin story may have come from the ashes of war, it addresses modern environmental, social and community development needs and issues.
It’s become popular with students looking to make a positive impact and help their skills and resumé. It is popular with families looking for similar impact outcomes, but also as new ways to bond and change outlooks for the next generation.
It is also becoming popular with corporate, institutional and educational groups. The ‘by-committee’ approach to group volunteering can create bigger impacts faster, all while developing kinship among its participants and deeper connections on the ground.
There are 2 tracks of benefits that can be realized when a group volunteers locally, or abroad. There are purposeful benefits and there are personal benefits.
Purposeful benefits relate to outcomes and impacts. In particular, group volunteering abroad can help brighten developing world prospects, while funding and/or mitigating expensive local needs such as construction or infrastructure materials, or a short-term directed labor force.
Personal benefits relate to growth and connections. These benefits often create the greatest ripples. New experiences, overcoming challenges, being outside a comfort zone, and sharing goals gives group members foundational moments that can be missing from their day-to-day lives.
Generally speaking, there are 4 types of group volunteering programs. Although there is a notable increase in the number of friends and family volunteer groups. They are now blending travel with family reunions, weddings, and creating alternatives with a greater purpose.
The 4 main types of group volunteering abroad programs, they are:
High School Group Volunteer Projects: These programs introduce high-school aged students to a new world of community service and global citizenship. Generally, student group itineraries blend unskilled tasks with cultural immersion. Projects such as eco-home construction, beach clean-ups, and tree planting. These are efforts, that while under the supervision and with clear operations goals, can create an impact in-destination and with the next generation.
College and University Volunteer Programs: These programs tend to be more disciplinary in their application. They provide opportunities to apply one’s deepening post-secondary education into a contemporary cause, or issue. At the same time, these programs can further learnings and improve post-graduate career prospects. Today, many programs exist in the fields of medicine, veterinary studies, renewable energy, business, and archaeological faculties.
Institutional and Faith-Based Programs: Charities and faith-based communities have a long history of volunteering. In many cases support the people and places associated with their cause or their religion. Building schools, constructing youth centers, orphanages and women’s shelters are common causes supported by this form of group volunteering.
Corporate Volunteering Programs: Corporations and their social responsibility are playing an active role in giving back. Corporate group volunteering blends team-building, fund-raising, and applied effort. Similarly to the common projects of institutional and faith-based programs, corporate groups often choose community development projects. However, there is a rise in environmental conservation efforts, such as sea-turtle conservation and reforestation.
Like anything, the more moving parts one has to work with, the greater the chances of something going wrong. For those interested in group trips abroad, or at home, simpler projects are often better. Too much variety in places, in tasks, and in people, can create a juggling act for administrators and water down the impacts and impact the enthusiasm on the ground.
It’s also important to stay true to your values; and identify what unites your group as a collection of individuals. You may have people in your group that feel our environment isn’t an important asset. You need to expect that tasks related to conservation, such as beach clean-ups will be done with a little less drive. If that’s the case, choose community projects for your volunteer trip.
Get to know your group, and ask them what they want to support. Then search for options that spark the most passion, and the begin designing your group volunteer experience.
What makes a great volunteering destination? The answer is in balancing the need and the serviceability. There is no shortage of need. Communities need assistance, people need help, and the environment needs champions. Getting there, staying there, and living there can be the biggest challenge.
For high-school group volunteering, destinations like Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Caribbean car provide administrators with excellent starting points.
For college and university volunteering groups, their niche faculty or educational requirements may take them to countries like Italy, Greece, Morocco, Sri Lanka, Kenya, or Cambodia.
With more mature groups, like corporate, institutional or faith-based, time may be the biggest factor and that commitment begins with where you call home. Additionally, the number of participants can play a role in decision making. If you live in Los Angeles and have 250 people to consider, perhaps Asia or Africa is just too far to make work. Again, a place like Costa Rica or Guatemala could be a better option.
International Volunteering Organizations: