Do I need experience to volunteer abroad?

Do I need experience to volunteer abroad?

Everything you need to know about requirements for volunteering overseas with Projects Abroad.
By Vicci Parry | 24th October, 2018

Are you a jack of all trades, but a master of none? Are you passionate about a particular issue, but don’t have any qualifications in the field? Perhaps you’re still figuring out the career you’d like to specialise in. Or maybe you want to volunteer to get out of your comfort zone and do something completely different to your day job or field of study. The good news is, if any of the above applies to you, we have a volunteer project or internship for you!


You don’t need any specific skills or qualifications for volunteering abroad on the majority of our projects.


You’re probably wondering, what use is it to send unskilled volunteers to help in developing countries? Can they really make a difference? 


The short answer is yes! In the past 25 years, we’ve seen the amazing impact volunteers, both skilled and unskilled, have had on their placements. But it’s up to us, as an organisation, to have structures in place to make sure volunteers contribute to their full potential. These are:

  • Making sure your role supports our local professionals
  • Ensuring you have the right experience if a project needs it
  • Having Project Experts who can match you to your perfect project
  • Organising workshops and training in your destination to build your skills
  • Having native English speakers assist with English lessons
Volunteers work together to paint an educational mural while volunteering overseas on a project with no requirements.

You will be supporting experienced staff who do have expertise

It’s important to emphasise the role you’ll play as a volunteer. Particularly if you don’t have any qualifications, you will have a supporting role. Local professionals will be there to do the very skilled work and you’ll be there to support them in this and provide an extra pair of hands so that we can reach more people and have a greater impact.


Assuming a supporting role for experts means you can make a difference, even if you’re volunteering overseas with no experience.


“The most important way volunteers help is by providing extra hands. When we do growth monitoring, we take the heights and weights of, on average, 30-100 children per session. If it was only me taking these measures, I wouldn’t be able to monitor nearly as many children as that. With all of this data, there are also lots of reports to compile, talks and presentations to give, posters and educational materials to be developed, and so on. Volunteers also help a lot with that kind of work. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do all of it on my own.” Fahima Adam, Nutrition Project Manager in South Africa


Our medical outreaches are a perfect example of this relationship in action. During a medical outreach, you’ll accompany nurses, doctors, or dieticians to remote or rural communities.


You’ll set up stations where each volunteer can take patients’ measurements (using the skills you will have learnt during a workshop). If you encounter someone with a high or low reading, you’ll refer them to local medical professionals for a consultation.


These outreaches cater to hundreds of local people. The doctors and nurses wouldn’t be able to see to all these people on their own. Volunteers provide the extra manpower to screen patients. This leaves doctors and nurses free to consult with patients flagged by volunteers.


Our experienced local staff are the backbone of our projects. They’ll be there to guide and support your work as a volunteer, answer your questions, and give demonstrations if you’re feeling unsure.

A medical volunteer takes measures during a healthcare outreach using her skills gained from volunteering abroad.

Some (but not all) of our volunteer projects abroad have requirements

A few of our volunteer projects overseas do have specific requirements. This is usually the case for our internships, where you need to work more independently. If partner organisations need help with specialised tasks, it’s our responsibility to make sure our volunteers can help with these tasks.


For example, on our Psychology internship in Jamaica, you need to be studying towards a psychology or social work degree, or have a qualification in guidance counselling to join. On this project, you’ll be dealing with sensitive cases, so you need a certain level of expertise. These requirements are in place to make sure you can contribute fully at your placement and don’t feel out of your depth.


Don’t worry about figuring out whether you need experience for a specific project. Just visit our website, go to the page of the project you’re interested in, and check the requirements in the fact box near the top of the page. Or, contact one of our friendly Project Experts to chat through your options.

Our Project Experts will guide you on which project is the best fit for you

We run so many different projects in countries all around the world. It’s sometimes hard to weigh up the options and make a decision on your own from behind your computer screen. Our Project Experts are there to help you find your perfect project. You can contact them to chat about your specific interests, skills, and qualifications. Since they are constantly in touch with our local staff in our destinations, they’ll be able to match you to a project that suits both your needs and the placement’s needs.


With this in mind, if you don’t have any particular qualifications or expertise, Project Experts will know which projects will benefit from your support. Remember, for most of our projects, no experience is needed to volunteer overseas.


“A mum recently contacted us on behalf of her son, who was taking a gap year and looking to do some worthwhile volunteer work. She happened to mention that as part of their travels as a family, they’d seen African wild dogs on safari. She told me how much her son loved them, that he had a real passion for them, and was so interested in learning about them. It was perfect timing, because our camera traps at the Conservation Project in Botswana had just picked up footage of a pack of wild dogs. I mentioned this to her and explained what else the project in Botswana involves. She instantly said how perfect it would be for him. Living in the bush, working to protect animals he loved, and being in Africa sounded great. It was so nice to be able to find a project that matched a genuine interest the volunteer had outside of any career or education prospects. I know how much the Botswana Project needs volunteers as well. In fact, it’s at the top of my list of projects I would go to if I had the chance, so it felt great to be able to match a passionate volunteer with a brilliant project!” Bessie Richards, Senior Projects Expert

 

Even though our Project Experts work hard to match you to your perfect project, there’s still room for flexibility once you’ve started your project. If you join a project and feel uncomfortable, unsure, or like you aren’t contributing as much as you could be, you’re welcome to chat to our staff.


One of the benefits of having in-country staff supporting you throughout your placement is that you can immediately come to them with your concerns. Our local staff know our sustainable project goals by heart, so they can easily adjust your role while still making sure you’re contributing to long-term impact.


“During their induction, a Teaching volunteer interested in a specific subject, such as mathematics, will first be introduced to their placement supervisor. Their supervisor will introduce the volunteer to the local teacher who teaches that subject. The volunteer will work together with the local teacher during class hours as well as during lesson preparation for classes.” Robert Porokwa, Teaching Project Coordinator in Tanzania
A Project Expert guides a student to a project where no experience is needed to volunteer overseas.

We run regular workshops and training so you can gain skills while volunteering abroad

On many of our Childcare, Teaching, and Medicine Projects, we run regular workshops. These workshops teach you the skills you need to contribute. You’ll also have access to a database filled with useful resources.


You’ll usually have one workshop as you arrive and then another workshop every one to two weeks of your project. You’ll learn from qualified professionals like your project manager, teachers, nurses, or doctors. For Childcare and Teaching Projects, you’ll learn about lesson plans and get ideas for educational activities to run. During medial workshops, professionals will teach you specialised skills like how to measure blood pressure and blood sugar.


Although these are specialised skills, they’re easy to master if you have good guidance. So you should be ready to support local staff after your first workshop. When in doubt, our staff will be there 24/7 to answer your questions or help you through specific tasks. These workshops mean that you can volunteer overseas without experience, because you will learn the skills once you’re on the project.


“Thanks to continuous training and support, our programmes offer a unique learning opportunity for volunteers. During regular workshops, they may be learning from local professionals, our experienced staff members, or even other more experienced volunteers working in the same destination. It’s all about sharing best practices, and exchanging knowledge and skills in order to maximise the group’s impact on the ground, as well as gain insight into their chosen field.” Jenny Puyo, Projects Abroad Head of Programme Development
A Projects Abroad volunteer gains skills from volunteering abroad by learning from a local doctor.

Native English speakers are valuable in non-English speaking countries

Maybe you think you don’t have any skills, but you actually do! A perfect example of this is being a native English speaker. Things like English pronunciation might come naturally to you, but will be much more difficult for students and even teachers who speak English as a second or third language. You can help by running informal English conversation classes or assisting teachers during English lessons.

A volunteer teaches the alphabet to children at her Projects Abroad placement where no experience is needed to volunteer overseas.

Diversity is a strength

You might feel like you don’t have anything special to offer, but every volunteer has something unique to add to their project. Through this journey, you’ll develop and sharpen skills you never knew you had and discover what you’re truly capable of.


The diversity of our different volunteers and local staff is a major asset. Working as a team means supplementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses to make a difference in extraordinary ways. When people of different ages with different ideas and abilities come together to solve a problem, anything is possible.


Do you have specific skills or interests you’d like to use to make an impact? Perhaps you have no particular experience but are passionate about helping others? Read more about the wide range of projects we offer to see how you can contribute, no matter your experience level.

A diverse group of volunteers on a volunteering overseas project without requirements.

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