What Is It Like To Be A Volunteer? – Part Two

Where can I find volunteering opportunities?

Many ways.

If you are religious, it’s easy.

But whether or not you are religious, you need to be rational and practical.  Most people are a bit emotional when it comes to volunteering. 

First, you need to ask yourself these questions:

What kind of volunteering work do you want to do or can you do?

There are many types – work in the kitchen, teach English, help the sick, etc. It all depends on what you can do and give or contribute and what you want to achieve.

In some cases, you may need to know the local language.

I once talked to my doctor about volunteering for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). He checked my age immediately, and then said, ‘if you start studying for a medical degree now, you can still do it. MSF doesn’t want someone who is too old because in the field, they don’t know if they should take care of you or the patients.’

‘They don’t want someone who is too old because in the field, they don’t know if they should take care of you or the patients.’

My doctor said to me.

There are many things you need to consider before you become a volunteer. Most importantly, you don’t want to be a burden to the local people.

How long can you volunteer for?

Most of the structured and organized volunteering programmes require at least one month (or sometimes three months).  If you are thinking of teaching English, you need a much longer time.  Education takes a much longer time to see the effect.  Imagine, if every volunteer goes to the village to teach for one afternoon, what can you teach? 26 letters? And then what? And what will the next volunteer teach?

You need to commit a longer term. Time is very relevant.

Yes, I have also heard people volunteer for one week or less to paint or even build a house. Painting is kind of ok but I have also heard of stories about inexperienced volunteers who wasted the paint simply because they didn’t know how to paint a house and all the paints dropped on the floor. That cost money too. The paint, i.e. money, wasted on the floor can be used to buy something else to improve the lives of the people.

Back in August 2019, a Hong Kong youth group came to Cambodia to have cultural exchange with the Cambodian youths and helped paint a classroom. Before it happened, I discussed with one of the organizers and asked him if anyone would teach them how to paint.  I told him the stories that I heard. He acknowledged it and brought a guy from the office to teach the youths. It was a good experience. I helped to paint it too. No paint was wasted. Unfortunately, after the Hong Kong youths left, the place was left without maintenance, as far as I know.

My students were cleaning the walls.

How about building a school or a house? Are you a builder? Do you know how to build a proper house? I have once attended a talk about resilience. It was delivered by a volunteer who had been to different countries to help people during or after a natural disaster.  Guess what he said about the houses built by inexperienced volunteers?  All the houses couldn’t survive the earthquake.  Why? Because those volunteers did not know how to build a proper house.  In the end, who suffered? The local people. Imagine, those houses collapsed during the earthquake.  Who died? The local people.  The local people whom the volunteers thought were helping.

‘All the houses built by the inexperienced volunteers couldn’t survive the earthquake.’

A volunteer, when he recalled what happened in Nepal after the earthquake.

So, when you take up some volunteering work, think about your own ability, how long you can commit it for and what you can contribute.

After you ask yourself these questions and you still want to be a volunteer, you can then check:

1. International NGOs (INGOs). They usually post volunteering opportunities online.

2. Google. You can find many volunteering opportunities. You need to be careful though and you need to verify if that is a scam. Do your due diligence. It will take some time to do online research but if you are really into it, you won’t mind.

Some of the NGOs ask you to pay for the volunteering experience. I have passed the stage where I want to pay to be a volunteer so a ‘pass’ for me.

Some are au pair. If you like it, it’s not a bad option. But that will mean you need to have a proper visa to stay in that country. Usually for au pair, the host won’t help you to apply for a visa.

3. Your government. In some countries, the government encourages its citizens to volunteer overseas. That’s a safe option. They offer very structured programmes and those government officials are experienced so they can help or advise you, say, how to apply for the visa and what you need to prepare and give you a briefing beforehand. You may also get a stipend. However, the commitment may be longer, like three months at least.

4. Religious groups. This is another reliable source.  If you are not religious, be honest with them and ask them if you can still help out. Even if they don’t accept you, they may know some other reliable organizations.

5. Ask people who have been a volunteer, like me. πŸ˜› You may find some blogs about volunteering but again you need to verify if that’s true and not a scam. 

6. Your own network. You will never know. You may have friends who have volunteered or who know some friends who have volunteered / worked for a local NGO in some countries and had a good experience and the term may be flexible. Make your intention known in your circle of friends.

Next week, we will talk about what you need to prepare beforehand, both physically and mentally and what it takes to be a volunteer.

Stay tuned. πŸ™‚



My students were enjoying my unconventional English lesson. πŸ™‚ This photo was taken before the Hong Kong youths and Cambodian youths painted this classroom. One of the Hong Kong girls who helped to paint the classroom said to me, β€˜Really?! You have been using this classroom for your lessons? Gosh! I thought it was abandoned!’ So yeah, you can imagine what the situation was like. Insects were flying in when we had the lessons and they landed on my shirt and pants (lucky that none of them flew into my mouth πŸ˜„). 12-inch lizards crawled in (or sometimes β€˜flew’ in) when we had the lessons and made some loud noise and left their big droppings everywhere. That scared some of my students. One of the students sitting at the back against the wall always used a book to hit on the wall to scare the lizards away. Sometimes, I could see rats running around at the back of the classroom. I had to stay calm because I didn’t want to scare my students. But I was scared too!!! @remote village in Kampong Cham province, Cambodia

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