Volunteer Abroad: Preparation

Think about how you can help and what you want to get out of the experience

Volunteering might have been part of your ”list” for a while now. The urge to save the world, play a hero, get recognized, tell a great story. But seriously. Why do you do it? How can you help? What do you want to get from the experience? Volunteering isn’t just a thing to try and say “checked, I’ve done my part”. It goes well beyond that. There are a lot of people in need all over our world and they require people committed in helping them find a brighter light. Most of us, literate and educated people, we are fortunate enough to come from a decent family, a decent country, decent government. If I find the time and money to travel and enjoy myself in developing countries, I will take the time to learn and help with the tools I have behind the scenes of less fortunate countries.

I am travelling to Morocco to volunteer with women. Being an Islamic country, women of Morocco are facing everyday challenges such as poverty, violence, illiteracy and unemployment. My goal is to help improving literacy levels by teaching French and English, assisting with professional development and providing support to female victims of domestic violence.

Even if I won’t change the world during my short stay, I will provide the best I can, if only to see progress and change in one person.

Sign up

There are several volunteer programs running worldwide. Volunteering tend to be expensive, so a wise search is necessary. I opted for IVHQ, a program providing aid and assistance to developing countries while increasing education and  awareness.

ivhq-social

Here is an interesting link of an article published on the Verge Magazine written by Jim Carson regarding choosing a volunteer program:

http://www.vergemagazine.com/articles/volunteer-abroad/volunteer-abroad-how-to-choose-a-volunteer-programme.html

Get documents

After signing up, you will get a booklet of information regarding the program, the preparation, the stay, the activities, etc. It is important to read it thoroughly as important information is provided.

An important document to get is your criminal clearance record check. Since you will be working with people, probably children as well, making sure that you are cleared of any criminal activities is necessary for the process of your application.

It is usually your responsibility to get a Visa. Do your research and get one if required.

Make photocopies of all your travel documents (passport, ID, flights, insurances, Visa).  Leave one copy to a friend or family member at home. Take the spare one with you.

Learn about the country

Where is it located? What is the religion? What is the clothing and culture like? What are the customs? What kind of food? What is the weather like? What is the currency? How do you greet someone? How do you thank someone? You don’t need to know everything in detail as you will explore and also learn on your own once there. But there is some essential information to know before landing. Arriving with a basic knowledge of the country would be beneficial for you and be grandly appreciated by the locals.

See a doctor

Make sure you are in a healthy condition to travel abroad. Have him/her update your vaccines and inform you on the ones you need for the country where you will be volunteering.

Pack

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You are almost ready to go! Get a travel backpack and fill it with only the essentials. Don’t pack too much. You can always purchase the missing items in your host country. That way you also invest in a developing country.

  • Clothes: know what are the appropriate clothes to wear and pack accordingly. Some people tend to presume all countries are westernized and there are no customs to follow since they are on vacation. WRONG! Respect the religion, the customs, and the people. Blend in. Also learn about the daily and nightly temperatures and weather. That might prevent you some surprises.
  •  First aid/medical kit: I like to bring a few bandaids, polysporin, grapefruit extract (natural antiseptic, antiviral and anti-fungal agent and excellent for healing of wounds), vitamin supplements and antihistamine tablets.
  • Toiletries: your everyday use.
  • Presents for hosts and children: it is nice to bring a present from home to your host family. Nothing expensive, just a little thought. For the children, anything from pens, stickers, chalk, books, games will make them happy. I usually always bring a few items for the local kids, however, you have to be very careful with that action. A lot of developing countries, including Morocco, have a rising problem of pedophilia. Kids have developed a facility to approach foreigners and offering presents to kids in the street will not help the problem. Instead, save the presents for the time you will be invited by a family to have tea or dinner at their house (of course always be vigilant from who you accept these offers).
  • Cameras: From DLSR to GoPro, to point and shoot to iPhone. Bring enough memory cards. Perhaps a memory stick to keep backups.
  • Music: for the lonely times, or to start the party!
  • Reading material: I always carry a travel diary to document my experiences, thoughts and progress. Our memory can only retain so much information and events, that way when on paper it will bring you back someday. A travelling book like Lonely Planet could be of good help as well. Don’t forget your pen.
  • Important documents: Of course, don’t forget your passport, ID, cards, flight information, insurances, etc. 

Get excited!

Try to get everything organized at least one day before your departure. At least, I try. There are so many things to think about that it is easy to let the stress take over the emotions. I like to keep the last day stress free and start to get excited.

I’m leaving tomorrow for Morocco. And yes, I am excited 🙂

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