Volunteering Abroad: Why It Will Change You And How To Get Started
Volunteering abroad can be an amazing experience – you can travel AND make a difference. But, not only do you make a difference in the lives you affect… you also make a difference in yourself. Whether you’re looking for self-fulfillment, a new experience, or to buff up your resume, there are plenty of ways you can start volunteering abroad.
Why Volunteer: My Personal Experience
For a couple months during my semester abroad, I volunteered with children at a refugee camp in Greece through The Schoolbox Project. It was such an incredible experience – I highly recommend putting yourself out there to help others.
The Schoolbox Project is an organization that provides trauma informed education, art, and play to children in refugee camps. The volunteers through the organization pack school supplies and activities for into a shipping container. You heard me – we work out of a shipping container. This way, everything can be transported to where it’s needed most… and in our case, it was needed in Elliniko, Greece. At our camp, there were over 300 children that were not in school, and lacked a daily structure that aids in healthy development. Our goal was to integrate organization and support throughout a very difficult time in these children’s lives.
Through this experience, I’ve learned how much joy can come from volunteering and feeling like you’ve helped others. It absolutely filled my heart every time I interacted with these children. They brought such happiness when they were jumping all over the volunteers each morning because they’re excited to see us. The caring they show when they offer us whatever they have to say thank you (which is typically a piece of fruit). Yes, volunteering your time can be tiring and time consuming, but the bliss you feel in helping others will keep you coming back despite the exhaustion.
As cliché as it is – volunteering changed me. This experience has made me realize how much I have taken for granted. It made me realized how easy it is to disassociate yourself from what you hear on the news, but that all of the terrible things that you hear – these things are real and happening to children and families that are just like us. I am so grateful for the experience to spend my time at the refugee camp because as much as I would like to think I’ve made a difference for them – they have made a difference on me more. They have forced me to open my eyes to what others are experiencing and to prioritize my life in ways that I was not. They have broken through prejudicial thoughts, my own ignorance, and opened my heart to experiencing things from a different perspective. Most of all, I’ve learned to continue filling your heart every day with love.
From personal experience – help others and feel the happiness that it brings you. Don’t be afraid of new experiences and collect as many as you can. I cannot urge you more to see what needs are in your city and try to help as much as possible.
How to Start
Whether you’re already abroad or looking to go abroad – there are so many different opportunities for volunteering. You may want to consider what skills you already have, or what experiences you’re looking to gain. Don’t worry about your professional experiences (although some volunteering opportunities may require this), but focus on what you can bring into it – a positive attitude, dedication, even a special skill (such as dancing).
If you’re looking to plan a trip around volunteering, check out Go Abroad or GVI Volunteers. Since I was already abroad, I chose to look at volunteer opportunities directed towards my location. To look for volunteering in Greece – check out http://www.greecevol.info. As a student, you may also be able to rely on an RA or student guide to help you find out what opportunities are near you.
Can’t Make It Overseas but Looking to Contribute?
To look for ways you can contribute: The Schoolbox Project is an amazing organization looking for volunteers and donations! Please look at the link to donate – the Schoolbox is in need of supplies such as carpets, art supplies, renting the shipping containers we work out of, etc. If you want to help out but you can’t make it to Greece, the Schoolbox welcomes donations and has a 100% donation policy – everything you give will be transferred to our location in Greece to buy supplies.