Q&A: "Those who come open and eager to learn make the greatest difference"

Posted on 8th May 2017 in Q&A, Volunteering Abroad, Kaya

In part 1 of 3 of our Q&A with Kaya, they tell us about why gappers choose to volunteer abroad

Why should gappers choose to volunteer?

There are a number of reasons why volunteering on your gap year is a great idea. These are my top 5:

1) Justifying you travels for your CV: Whether you are a student or a career-breaker, when employers see a gap in your CV, they will want to know what you did with that time. Demonstrating that you participated in a structured program that contributed something tangible is seen in a positive light and enables you to talk about your experiences in the context of certain soft-skills than enhance your employability

2) To experience greater cultural immersion: Travellers often struggle to experience the local perspective on their visits. A volunteer program working alongside local people within the community opens a window to real life in a country that is otherwise difficult to achieve.

3) To make you a better global citizen: Volunteers working on any project will learn about the issues and challenges that are encountered in tackling that particular problem. Having a local context on global issues gives you a real perspective which will hopefully influence your opinions and behaviours back at home in the future.

4) To meet new people: Volunteering is the best way that a single traveller can ensure they keep busy and meet people - both locals and other volunteers from around the world. And volunteering generally doesn’t incur any of those single-person supplements either!

5) Because there is so much to learn: All the best volunteers tell how much they learned from their experience. Sometimes it’s language skills - from Spanish and Thai to Siswati; or a practical skill - like building a clean-burning stove, or tracking an elephant; sometimes it is a soft skill - like how to control a class of children, or present to a community group; and sometimes it is learning something about themselves - like how they don’t need to be connected to the internet at all times, or how easy they found to connect with someone so different to themselves. It is true that as a volunteer you gain as much as you give when you join a great project.

What should gappers consider before they choose to undertake voluntary work?

The most important thing to think about when you volunteer is not how much you can achieve, or how much you can give, but rather, how much can I learn from those with whom I will work. Those who come open and eager to learn about their project, the local culture and the work they are joining become the people who can make the greatest difference on a project.

What skills might a gapper pick up as a result of volunteering on their gap year?

The soft skills that volunteers develop on their projects are numerous; Multi-cultural communications, from working with local teams and volunteers of other nationalities; Problem solving, from having to approach the work with limited resources in a context that they are unfamiliar with; Flexibility and ability to adapt to change, from working in cultures that are different on work that has to adapt to daily challenges. And if you volunteer on a project that aligns with your area of study you can gain subject-specific work experience as well – teaching placements for those interested in education; public health placements for those want to go into care or medicine; wildlife placements for veterinary or Zoology experience, and a lot of environmental science opportunities, to name just a few!

What are the most popular options for volunteering?

The most popular option depends on that person’s personal preferences, and what is right for one person is wrong for another. We interview each and every volunteer to make sure they are matched with a placement that suits their interests. Some people prefer outdoor work, work with animals or something in a rural location. The most popular placements for these people will be different to those for people who want to work in a community or prefer an urban environment, for example. It is important to find a project that is right for you, in order for you to be a useful volunteer for that project and ensure you have a good experience. A happy volunteer who genuinely cares about the issues they are working with always works harder and contributes more to the work at hand!

Where are volunteers needed most?

It is important for volunteers not to come to any project with a “saviour complex” – where they believe that their participation will solve all the problems for their host projects. It is better for volunteers to come to any place with the approach of “mutual-exchange” where they can learn as much from their hosts as they can contribute with the work that they do. Your ongoing passion, understanding and advocacy for a cause after you have left the projects is as valuable as your time on the ground. It is impossible to say whether the conservation of wildlife is more needed or important than the education of children, the empowerment of women or the construction of homes. These are all very worthwhile causes and they all need help. As such I would say that volunteers are needed the most where that individual feels that they have the greatest empathy and willingness to learn about the project they choose.

Click here for more information on Kaya Volunteer

Read part 2 here

Read part 3 here