Interested in Volunteering Abroad? Here’s Some Expert Advice
Since its inception in 1912, CMMB has been placing volunteers around the world. Our founder, Dr. Paulel Flagg’s first mission trip was to Haiti where he served those suffering from leprosy. Seeing the extreme need, he recruited others to join. We have been sending volunteers ever since. Our volunteers come back forever changed from their experiences serving in the low-resourced countries where we work. Here they share some advice for others considering bringing their skills and compassion where it’s needed most.
Are you interested in volunteering internationally but feeling a bit unsure? While there are many blessing and learnings that come with serving others, volunteering abroad also has its challenges and frustrations.
Sometimes the best way to reduce anxiety so that you follow your heart, is to talk to people who have been there before. We captured the common concerns and questions people considering volunteering raised and then asked our international volunteers – people who have served in some of the most challenging contexts including Sudan – to share their advice. We hope this will put some concerns to rest.
8 Pieces of Advice for People Thinking About Volunteering Abroad
1) What if I don’t have what it takes?
Dr. Tom Catena: Volunteer doctor in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan
Whoever you are, and whatever level you’re at, you have a lot to offer. If you catch the volunteer bug like I did thanks to CMMB many years ago and you want to stick with it, fine, you stick with it. You keep learning. You see areas where you can contribute. There is a lot people can offer. You don’t have to know everything. You go with what you know, be open and willing to learn and you can contribute a lot.
2) I know these places have very few resources. How will I provide quality care?
Sarah Rubino: Volunteer nurse/midwife in Nzara, South Sudan
When you come to a place like Nzara, that is very remote and disconnected from the resources you are used to my advice is to not expect a single thing. Expect only the minimum, the absolute minimum. When I came to Nzara, I tried to join the community and begin my role at St. Therese Hospital with very few expectations and even I was shocked for the first couple weeks. So my advice is to enter your volunteer experience with no expectations because you will learn very quickly that those expectations will not be met in the ways you think.
3) I like the idea of volunteering abroad, but I don’t know if this is the right time.
Dr. Jose Garcia Ulerio: Volunteer doctor in Mutomo, Kenya
My words to other people who are considering something like this is to not overthink as I did but if the opportunity comes just take the leap and do not overthink. Say yes and then you will figure it out, that is what happened to me and it has been beautiful since then.
4) Will I be able to make a real difference?
Dr. Matthew Jones: Volunteer doctor in Nzara, South Sudan
If I were to offer one piece of useful advice I would stress the importance of being flexible. I think your core response to living and working in places like South Sudan has to be flexibility and the ability to accept that things are different. Otherwise you will start to drown in the everyday frustrations that life in Nzara can bring. But, I also think that it is important to believe that you can make a difference in these communities, that you can bring to bear on this place some experience, and to some extent some wisdom, which you may not think you actually posses.
5) I want to volunteer because I want to change the world.
Cathryn Espadero: Volunteer M&E specialist in Mutomo, Kenya
Intuitively, I would say, don’t volunteer internationally if you want to change the world. You go to a place like Kenya, and people are already doing work. As a foreigner, you don’t know the whole context and you don’t learn right away what type of work is being done. If you go expecting to change the world, don’t go. But, if you have a sincere humility to support the work that is already being done, then go. Don’t do the things that you want to do, do things that are needed. When I was there, I realized that sometimes these smaller tasks were more important than building the M&E system.
6) Will I be welcomed into the community I serve in?
Dr. James Peck: Volunteer doctor in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan
This kind of work is probably the most gratifying thing I have ever done. But more importantly, there is such a great need for it around the world. There are so many people that would benefit from your skills and your training. And to me, I think it is really important at any stage in your career, to give back when you have the opportunity to give back. Because believe me, the people you will serve need it, and they are very grateful for it.
7) Will the experience change me?
Mary Fleming: Volunteer OBGYN in Mutomo, Kenya
The idea that you’re going to change somebody’s life or that you are going to be helpful is what motivates us, but most likely your life will be the one that changes most.
8) Will I feel connected to the people I serve?
Beverly Farinelli: Volunteer nurse in Mwandi, Zambia and Nzara, South Sudan
First off, in terms of getting started you just have to jump in. That’s what I did. In terms of advice for actually living the experience, I’ve really thought about this. I see a lot of young people who want to do good and want to volunteer. What I would tell them is this: just stand in front of the mirror, look at yourself, and forget that person. Take that body, strength, and passion, and step away. Be ready to give every ounce of who you are to people that you don’t know. Because, those people are your brothers and sisters in the world, and you have to give everything away.
All of these volunteers have written multiple pieces for our website reflecting on their experiences in the field. You can find the stories of these volunteers along with many others’ by visiting our volunteer blog.
Are you at least a little more convinced? Learn more about how you can put this advice to action by viewing our volunteer opportunities today!