Recently I had a conversation with an individual who did not understand what they could offer when considering a potential traveling volunteer opportunity. Was a great attitude enough? A “do whatever it takes” attitude that guides program organisers and volunteers through to the end of a short community project experience? Or should a pre-traveling volunteer think about the skills they have and look for an opportunity to use them? All great questions! However, when all is said and done, I believe traveling volunteers should be matched with traveling volunteer opportunities to feature skills they excel in. Here’s three primary reasons why…
Satisfied Volunteers. Traveling volunteers who bring their home-based skills to a community project (that needs them) tend to be more satisfied with the volunteering experience than those who are not skill-matched to a skills-needed project. Although there may be some discomfort associated with working in a foreign situation, a skills-matched project will likely produce a highly satisfied traveling volunteer. This is because the volunteer assisted a community project that needed their skills. Let’s look at a volunteer with painting skills for example. A skilled volunteer painter has the natural experience of being a painter regardless of what context they are in. This is different from that of an traveling volunteer who has never painted before and is expected to produce a stellar product for a foreign community project. Frustration and dissatisfaction with the volunteering experience for the inexperienced painters may occur because they may realise their contribution to the community was less than ideal.
Greater Impact. Highly skilled traveling volunteers, as noted above, tend to produce a stellar product in a community that needs a boost from a skill set under-available in their community. For example, the need for skilled medical volunteers. Many global South communities do not have enough trained medical personnel to manage preventative programs, conduct needed surgeries or to assist with community dental needs. Traveling medical and dental volunteer teams can leave a solid impact in a community that desperately needs health and wellness care.
Sustainable Program Development. Yes, the “S” word! So overused and so misunderstood. Sustainable (development) is much more than a”green thinking” type of development… it is, according to popular definition featured in the 1987 Brundtland Report, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (p. 45). When traveling volunteers offer their skills to a community, they are not only impacting the current generation of community members, but future generations as well.
Understanding that we all have talents and skills, it is of utmost importance that traveling volunteers explore volunteering opportunities that best match their skills. Not only will they likely be more satisfied with the experience, but will also produce a sustainable impact for current and future community members. After all, isn’t this why people want to volunteer nationally or internationally? To be satisfied knowing the impact of the traveling volunteer’s project is sustainable. Something to think about!