Volunteers’ individual motivations for making the decision to go overseas can be very mixed. They can range from seeing volunteering as a means to helping you make bigger decisions about your life, to wanting to work to achieve specific development aims.
For anyone who is thinking about volunteering overseas, it is very important to examine motivations before making any final decisions. Being aware of your motivations will help you to develop realistic expectations for your involvement.
In the table below you will find a selection of reasons often given by volunteers for their decision to take up a placement overseas, set out for you to help you assess your motivations for wanting to volunteer abroad. Score yourself for each item on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning that the statement is in no way a reason for your going and 10 meaning that it is a very important reason. Be as honest as possible: no-one except you will see your answers!
- To see the world
- To get away from life/work at home
- Solidarity with the oppressed
- To gain a first-hand knowledge about political issues
- To help people
- To get away from an unhappy relationship
- To get something different on my CV
- To contribute something
- Last chance to explore the world before settling down
- To pass on my skills
- To change the world
- To gain relevant professional work experience
- To work for justice
- Everyone else is doing it
- To challenge myself
- To respond to a religious motivation
- To try something different and to experience different cultures
- To broaden my mind
Were you surprised by any of your answers? When looking at your score, remember that there should ideally be a balance between meeting your needs and meeting the needs of others when making a decision to volunteer overseas. Examine the main reasons that emerged from the list, and think about whether volunteering is the best option for you.
If your reasons for volunteering overseas are mostly personal ones (eg, “I am fed up with life/work here,” “To see the world,” “To get away from an unhappy relationship”), you would need to consider the wider context of volunteering and the effects that you might have on other people.
Volunteers can have a huge impact on projects, and their preparedness on arrival both for the work and for living in what may be a very different culture can have a big impact on their contribution to programmes’ successes. It’s important to remember that you may be very involved with the day-to-day life in the host community and that your motivations need to stem from a real willingness to assist with achieving the project’s aims.
“Some volunteers refuse to eat our local food; we have had some volunteers demand more than what they signed up for; some volunteers try to go outside the agreed /chosen program, interfering with the hosts’ activities; some volunteers refuse to adhere to the rules and regulations in the host family.”Jubilee Ventures, Ghana, on some of the difficulties that can arise for host organisations if volunteers are not properly prepared for placements.
If, on the other hand, your motivations are mainly based on meeting the needs of others (eg, “To contribute something,” “To pass on my skills,” “To work for justice”), it’s very important to consider what you will be able to bring to the placement, and whether your presence will be able to contribute to achieving the goals of the project you choose. For example, if wanting to change the world is important to you, it is essential to consider whether the people with whom you will be working have the same views and ideals as you do. Also remember that many volunteers express frustration at how little they can achieve in the face of overwhelmingly large problems, and try to adjust your expectations accordingly.