An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

So You Wanna Volunteer?

Time's nearly up on my little adventure into the world of international volunteering. So in the effort to encourage (or discourage) would be volunteers who might be interested in dedicating a couple of years of their life to go and live in a country not as fortunate as their own, and have all sorts of adventures, and life altering experiences, all potentially good or bad, here are three insights I offer to impart on the more pragmatic side of volunteers and volunteering.

These are all now hindsight views on the ideals that I originally thought this caper would be like. Most of them proved to be false.

All volunteers will be like me?

Not quite. While it is probably true your average volunteer demographic is made up of mainly a left leaning, want-to-change-the-world, pinko, style people, this is about where the similarity lies between you and the other vols you will come across. The canvas of personalities and characters is about as wide across volunteers as they are across any group of people.

One thing is for sure is even though people are not as similiar as you would have imagined you will still make great friends with them and quite likely from new age groups. This is because you get two classes of volunteer age groups, the people who have yet to settle down and pop out the kids and want to have an experience before they do so and the people who are older and have already done the kid thing and are ready to have an experience while they are still upright enough to do so.

So what you will experience by volunteering is something quite bizarre and something that does not usually happen .. you will have friends who are your parent's/children's age.

All volunteering agencies are the same, right?

Pick and choose if you have a choice. There is more than one volunteer organisation around. For Australians for example there is Australian Volunteers International (the mob I came to PNG with), Australian Business Volunteers and the government set up Australian Youth Ambassadors. They each have their own niche and offer a slightly different experience.

AVI is typically for two years and you get enough to live on. ABV is for short-term periods and you get semi-decent pay (though still a lot less than you would be used to) and the Youthie guys are for one year and seem to get the best treatment (they are after all run directly by AusAID and are Alexander Downer's babies).

For other countries the story I gather is similar, the ones on a similar vein as AVI are: The Brits with VSO, the Yanks with the well-known Peace Corps, the Japanese with their JICA program and the Canadians and CUSO. There is also the United Nations Volunteers.

My advice is to have a shop around.

There will be volunteer romance aplenty?

For the potential single volunteers here's a little tip, do your research well and pick a position/location where there are actually other volunteers already based .. and which has members of the opposite sex .. and about your own age .. and single as well. This may then heighten the chances of finding a bit of romance amongst the foreignness.

And hey who isn't thinking this if they're a potential volunteer and single ... "hmmm, I'm a goin' to go overseas for a couple of years .. yeah, work will keep me busy enough ... she'll be right ... no need to worry ... ah shit, I hope there are some chicks!".

Don't despair though if you do end up getting stuck in one sex volunteer town, there are a couple of options available. Firstly cast your net a bit wider and see what else is available in other parts of the country and secondly go it with a local. Beware though the second option can have many hidden traps, much more than the usual romance worries. I have discussed this in regard to PNG women in more detail previously, depending on where you go the problems will be different.

So there you go, would be vol, some insights from the informed. I hope it helps.