Engaged. Most likely when you hear this word you think of two blissful people who have announced to the world their intentions to marry! However, for the traveling volunteer, the word engaged, engagement or to engage, takes on a different meaning, and contains three key components.

The human need to feel connected, understood through communication, and have a healthy dose of hope were found to be important for volunteer, community member, or non profit engagement. Feeling connected may be the result of having support of others, the development of lasting relationships, or a mutual investment in project member learning. It might also appear as feeling a sense of community energised through group cohesion based on a common cause or goal.

In terms of how communication may play a part in assuring individual or community member engagement, an individual’s personality, the process of collaboration between project members, and understanding local cultural norms, seem to have key roles. For the engagement element of hope, it may be considered as an underlying force that drives individuals to seek ways to meet goals they have to better themselves or a community at large. It is not false or unattainable, but measurable and realistic.

The question is, how do each of these participant groups cultivate the engagement components of connection, communication, and hope? Here are some points to consider.

  1. As a traveling volunteer, being aware that these elements exist (such as educating yourself through this article) is the first step. Research and read what this term means to you. What does it look like in your everyday life? What are you most engaging moments, or activities, and ask yourself why do they capture your attention or draw you in? What are your desired goals in life that you hope will happen?
  2. On an individual basis, make a concentrated effort to apply elements of engagement during each step of the traveling to volunteer experience (before, during and after). Are you half-heartedly going because someone told you to accompany them? While at your volunteering community, think about how you are conversing with other volunteers or community members. After the trip is over, are you still in contact with other people connected to the experience?
  3. Finally, research, ask, and observe how the organiser of a traveling volunteer project engages their volunteers, community members and organisation to the project, and with each other.  Does the organisation provide objectives that are too lofty to obtain, therefore instilling false hope in the community about the success of the program? More importantly, has the nonprofit provided goals that are measurable and attainable, providing the hope that community members will take over the program sooner than later.

Make no mistake, volunteer, community, and nonprofit engagement with each other, and with the project, is important for a healthy sustainable community development project. Traveling volunteers have the power to encourage engagement through reading, asking questions, and holding the nonprofit accountable for their organisational objectives. If done on an intentional basis, traveling volunteers can have their hand in providing the best atmosphere for mutual understanding and growth for all participants in a community development project.