Here at Projects Abroad we love to share the stories of our volunteers, and when we hear about families volunteering, they always stand out. Volunteering with your family abroad has grown in popularity and we’re not surprised as to why. It opens a whole world of experiences for both parents and their children. Families can explore new countries, learn about different cultures and understand the importance of helping others. Together, they can find out what they’re capable of while working with staff and volunteers of all ages from around the world.
Family volunteering is not only for parents and their kids. It can also be an incredible experience for grandparents, cousins and siblings alike.
Swiss volunteer, Romana (71) is the perfect example. She just finished her ninth (yes, you read that right!) volunteer project with us. This was also the second volunteer project she completed with her granddaughter, Laurane (20). We wanted to hear all about their experience so we met up with them in Mexico before they headed home.
Volunteering abroad as a senior
We’re seeing more retired professionals embarking on volunteer trips abroad as a way to share their skills and life experience. Instead of a regular vacation, Romana decided to do just that. She joined us on her first volunteer project, our Childcare Project in Costa Rica when she was 63 years old.
“I wanted to meet people, not to travel like a tourist,'' Romana explains. “I don’t like to travel like that. I like to be busy! To do something, meet new people and experience the culture.”
For Romana, giving back is a big part of her life. As a retired nurse, she’s always helped others and has never seen her age as a drawback to joining our projects. She’s worked alongside many young volunteers in Argentina, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Fiji. Many of them finding Romana’s attitude towards life and volunteering encouraging.
If anything, Romana finds her age a motivator to continue her travels around the world. There’s no time like the present whether she’s working, volunteering or simply inspiring others.
Inspiring the next generation: volunteering with her granddaughter
This inspiration reached Laurane, her 20-year-old granddaughter. After hearing about her grandmother's experience, they decided to volunteer together in Fiji in 2016.
“I [started with a] two week trip with other teenagers on a Childcare & Community High School Special. We did building in a school, painted the walls and played with the children,” explains Laurane, “Then I joined my grandma on the Nutrition Project, where I measured and weighed people. They were simple tasks, but I worked all the time. I like to be like Romana; busy!”
Even though Laurana started on a High School Special, she decided to live with her grandmother at a host family instead of with the other teenage volunteers. “I wanted to volunteer with [my grandmother], talk to her and stay in the same house. She inspired me, so I wanted to share this experience with her.” Both Laurane and Romana laugh when remembering this. “Sometimes it was hard because she was like my mother. We had fights sometimes but we did get closer”, Laurane added.
In 2019, Romana and Laurane joined us for their second volunteer project together; our Childcare Project in Mexico. Once more, they did a great job: “In Mexico, I felt more responsible because we were in charge of organising everything for the children: the daily programme, the daily activities, the games… I feel I shared more with the children here,” explains Laurane.
What they learned while volunteering abroad as a family
Volunteering abroad is a life-changing experience, but what you take away from it can differ depending on whether you’re in your twenties vs being retired. Volunteering abroad gives you a profound insight about the world, other cultures and the challenges that people face in other countries, as Laurane shared with us:
“I’ve always had a deeper insight but I think I am more mature now. When I talk with young people from my country, I sometimes get angry as they don’t have the same vision of the world. They’d rather travel and stay in hotels. I think it is useless to pay so much money to travel so far and not discover anything. With these projects, we got to learn so much about the country.”
They also took this opportunity to learn and practice their Spanish skills. ”[If you don’t speak the local language] you struggle to speak with the locals. Only the placement staff understand you”, claims Romana. That’s why she added two Language Courses to her volunteer projects in Costa Rica and Ecuador, while Laurane practised during their time in Mexico. “It’s a very different experience to speak the local language since you can learn more about the country,'' added Laurane.
Is all about the simple things
The best memories are often the hardest to choose, which was clear after talking with Romana and Laurane.
“I guess it’s the simple things, like conversations with our host mom and the children too,” says Laurane.
Choosing a favourite destination was especially hard for Romana, though she said that her Nutrition Project in Fiji and Childcare Project in Mexico were the most memorable. “The projects are very well supervised. [Our volunteer coordinators in Mexico], Leti and Lucas were very professional”.
A second family abroad
Volunteering abroad as a family does not only strengthen your bonds with your family but also gives you a chance at a second family: your host parents, other volunteers and the placement staff.
For Romana, this is exactly what happened. “I have memories from every country, especially the staff and my host families. My host family from Argentina even came to see me in Switzerland during a holiday in Europe. It was very nice!”
Looking forward towards a better future
Although this will be Romana’s last project with us, we’re happy to say that she’ll be continuing her volunteer spirit.
“I’m going to Lesotho to work as a nurse. I worked there for two years previously alongside a doctor friend. He has since passed away and I’d like to help his wife continue his work. I don’t know how long I’ll be there though. I'll probably work a few weeks in Lesotho, then travel back and forth between Switzerland and Lesotho over the next 1-2 years. We’ll see.”
Although Romana won’t be joining us again, she and Laurane always encourage others to take the plunge into the world of volunteering abroad. Laurane: “Just do it! But before doing it, please remember: these are not holidays. It’s work and is a great experience. If you want to study medicine or to take care of children or animals… there’s something for everyone! It’s a very good idea. Just do it!”