It’s all in the preparation – how to prepare for volunteering overseas by Luke Meinzen

By · 04 November, 2014 · Features, News

Every long-term international volunteering assignment requires preparation – and lots of it. We think it’s important to consider how to volunteer, before you think about where. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Find a volunteer sending agency suited to your skills, experience, interests and one that supports your needs and philosopy to development.
  • Familiarise yourself with the three core partners that deliver the Australian Government’s volunteer programs – they are Scope Global, Australian Volunteers International (AVI) and the Australian Red Cross.
  • Explore organisations involved in international development through the Australian Council for International Develoment – ACFID.
  • Get to know the recruitment process and decide whether you’re ready for it. Plan as you would with any employment opportunity. It’s a rigorous process that generally takes more than five months from start to departure.

To succeed in your application, you really need to know yourself. Do you have the personal competencies required to become a volunteer? You’ll need to possess flexibility, resilience and cross-cultural awareness, amongst many other traits.  Finally, look at countries where you might like to work. Explore their history and what makes the place special. Look for books or documentaries that tell stories from the grass-roots level. Then, think about how you might fit in.

Consider volunteering at home first

Volunteer closer to home, especially with Australian organisations that engage in the issues you are passionate about.  If you’re interested in working with marginalised communities, wy not work with asylum seekers and other migrants?  Want to take your skills as an educator to somewhere new? Try teaching disadvantaged groups in your own backyard. Fascinated by Timor-Leste?  Seek out a Friends of Timor group or association. Starting local gives you experience working at the pace of community organisations.  Preparing grant proposals, other fundraising and donor liaison are skills often requested by our partners overseas. Experience gained as a volunteer with your favourite NGO in Australia will greatly strengthen your application.

Mentoring is a worthwhile step

Consider mentoring locally in Australia. Supporting people in the achievement of their own goals is a big part of capacity development needed as a skilled volunteer. In order to offer the right support, volunteers first need to gain the trust of their colleagues by building relationships before they can share skills. Mentoring is a powerful tool for change, a challenging process, and another way to see the world through a different lens. Many organisations in Australia offer the opportunity to make a personal connection by exchanging stories, experiences, and skills with a diverse range of people. Look up community-based organisations in your neighbourhood.

Fitting back into Australian life

Think in advance how you will fit back in Australia after a volunteer assignment. Volunteers spend significant time away from friends, family, and, in some cases, partners. Volunteers leave behind houses, jobs and comfortable routines. In many cases, moving on to new things is part of the appeal of a volunteer assignment, but successful volunteers take care of what they leave behind. Careful planning ensures your support systems are in place and that you have a life to return to at the end of an assignment.

 Luke Meinzen is a former volunteer and staff member with Australian Volunteers International (AVI).

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