Deciding to get involved as a humanitarian aid volunteer is an exciting decision. You’ll get to travel and put your skills to good use with people and communities that really need you, all while boosting your CV. However, the process can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming, especially as you attempt to navigate the internet and choose the right opportunity for you. It can be especially daunting if you’ve never taking such a big leap before, so be sure to utilize the following tips as your begin your journey into the humanitarian field.
- Honestly Evaluate Yourself
Do yourself a favor and be completely honest with yourself as you begin searching the web for volunteer opportunities. Take a look at your education, experience, skill sets, and personality traits. Not every opportunity is right for every person, and you want to make sure that you’re choosing a project that is right for you, both physically and mentally. What kind of skills do you have? These can be communication and language, health, or construction. The scope of humanitarian volunteer roles are vast and varied, so applying for something that you can actually positively contribute to is better for you, the organization, and the beneficiaries. However, don’t be dismayed if this is your first time trying to gain experience in the field. If you are open and willing to go anywhere and try anything, regardless of the location, living conditions, and daily tasks, great! This will make you highly valuable to any organization, but be sure that you’re being honest with yourself before making that commitment. You can also apply for roles that will allow you to build the skills that you want to develop. For example, if you are interested in public health, volunteering for an organization that provides medicine and clinical services might be a great idea for you.
- Be Realistic About Your Commitment
Furthermore, and possibly most importantly, potential volunteers need to think about the time frame that they are willing/able to commit to. There are many short-term (think two weeks) opportunities around the world, but, equally, there are many projects that are looking for multi-month or open-ended commitments. For university students, finding a summer volunteer opportunity is an excellent way to apply the skills learned in academia to field work while adding to your resume. However, you needn’t necessarily be a student of humanitarian studies or a related field in order to get involved in a project and make a difference. In many cases, organizations and projects need bodies and willing hands and hearts. Look at yourself honestly, set your time and work-scope boundaries, establish goals, and decide on the sector that you could be of most use to.
- Do Your Research
There are tons of programs all over the world that constantly need volunteers. Projects can focus on relief after a disaster, providing medical or psychosocial care, rebuilding and development, and much more. After assessing your skills and deciding on a pathway, be sure to research organizations in your desired field. Organizations and specific projects within them might require you to have certain abilities, so be sure not to waste your time- or theirs. Researching the organization will also allow you to learn more about them and determine whether you can jump onboard with their mission. Plus, you’ll want to ensure that they have a record of safety and taking care of their volunteers from onboarding and throughout the project in the field.
- Financing Your Volunteership
It’s also important to note that there are many (dare I say ‘most’) established volunteer programs that require the volunteers to pay in order to participate. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, you definitely want to know what you’re signing up for. Even if the program itself does not come with a fee, you will be responsible for financing your trip. Be sure to find out all of the details before committing so that you can adequately plan and prepare for your trip. If you’ve got a chunk of savings waiting to be spent, awesome. If not, you might need to get creative, fundraising for your trip ahead of time.
- Utilize a Third-Party Volunteer Agency
If applying directly to a large organization like the United Nations or the Peace Corps is a bit too intense for you, fear not: there are many websites and agencies that can assist in finding the right opportunity for you. You can search by region, country, duration, or project type, all with the help of well-established humanitarian agencies. The best examples of these types of helpful online resources include Volunteer Forever, Go Abroad, Go Eco, EU Solidarity Corps, and Transitions Abroad.