Check out these five volunteer programs located abroad to give back to communities most in need.
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (Peter 4:10). This verse in the Bible represents precisely the essence of volunteer traveling: taking your knowledge and abilities to help those who are less fortunate.
Giving back is a core value of Catholicism, and although sometimes making time to serve during our daily routine can be challenging, many have opted to dedicate their vacations to visit those communities that need a helping hand.
Why you should try out volunteer traveling
The idea behind this activity might be the same as volunteering in your own community. However, the experience can be monumentally different. For starters, being abroad allows you to really connect with the cause and the people you are working with. This immersion in a completely new reality can be an eye-opening opportunity to see everything you have to give, and how much it is needed. Additionally, by pulling yourself out of your context you get a chance not only to connect with others, but to reconnect with yourself.
Volunteer traveling is a spiritual experience through doing a greater good. And once you are there, it’s also a personal achievement, a chance to experience a new part of the world, to learn about a different culture, to explore foreign lands. A transformative journey.
Before deciding to serve, especially when doing it abroad, you should ask yourself one very important question: why am I doing this? Answering this question in time is crucial to having a good experience and to offering the people you’ll be in contact with your better self. Volunteering should be born from gratitude. Serving should come from a reflection on everything you have in life and how you can share that. Being grateful for what you have, what you are and what you have accomplished will set the necessary tone to bring this to those who need it as an act of compassion, never guilt. Humility and open-heartedness are the right place to start in order to see the others needs, and not your own.
Where can you practice volunteer traveling?
There are several Catholic groups that offer opportunities to volunteer abroad. Each one requires different skills, and has a set amount of time to spend in the communities.
This nonprofit organization hosts mission volunteers at six homes across three countries: Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, and Jamaica (in 4 different cities). People living in these homes are both adults and children with disabilities. People working here aim to create a loving and caring environment to aid in the physical, mental and spiritual development of the residents. Volunteers help care for the residents, are present for them, and join the community in daily prayer, adoration and reflection.
Amigos de Jesús is a home for children in Honduras that accept volunteers to serve the kids, be their role models, and join them in prayer. The more than 140 children living here have been abandoned, abused and impoverished, and come from the rural zones of the country. The home includes a school, a chapel and a working farm. Volunteers may stay at the home, and must be conscious of the simple living conditions they’ll find in the facilities. Some of the activities volunteers are involved in are the medical brigade, work in the library, playing with the kids, or teaching them English.
Bolivia is open for volunteers with this program that starts with a six-week mission. This center looks for people who want to learn more about the difficulties some Bolivian people live and to have a transformative cross-cultural experience. Some of the work that can be done here is working with school children, orphans, elderly, special education kids, children with HIV/AIDS, people in prisons, and parish groups. Assignments will depend on the availability of the mission and the skills and background the volunteer has, in order to guarantee a good experience on both sides.
“Say little, do much” is the motto of this group that serves in communities in Ethiopia and Kenya. Volunteer programs last from 4 to 6 weeks and the objective is to work with the Daughters of Charity to build schools and libraries, teach children English lessons, and prepare development workshops for teachers. Other opportunities in Kenya include: join elderly community members in prayer and church activities, teach English to high school students, facilitate a spiritual retreat for local youth, and help local women establish a small business cooperative. Part of the experience also includes living in community, since all the activities are based on teamwork, volunteers live and work with other 3-4 volunteers. Spending time with the Daughters of Charity is also very inspiring; it’s an opportunity to learn about their efforts working with people living in poverty conditions
Agriculture is key for economic growth in developing countries. However, farmers usually lack of technical and business knowledge to improve their productivity, reach new markets and make sure their farm is sustainable. This program links volunteers and farmers in projects that last from 2 to 4 weeks in Timor-Leste, Nepal, Benin, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. During this time, volunteers can help farmers, producer groups, and rural businesses increase their production and begin an economic growth. Although most volunteers come from an agricultural background, the program is open for people with business, nutrition, leadership and food processing skills.