Benefits of Volunteering
Undertaking any type of volunteering work requires personal commitment in terms of motivation, time and often finance, however it can also be hugely rewarding. Our experience has shown that although our professional volunteers make an enormous contribution in terms of sharing their knowledge and skills with local staff and implementing new projects, they often gain just as much (if not more!) themselves. Travelling to and working within an international context certainly has its challenges but also presents vast opportunities for gaining new skills and experience. Below are some of the main benefits that our previous volunteers have reported:
The soft and transferrable skills gained by volunteers include cultural awareness, care and compassion, communication, commitment, teamworking, leadership, management and decision making. Volunteers often report gaining a greater appreciation of the health and education systems in their home countries, as well as a greater ability to conduct holistic systems thinking (viewing the system in terms of its constituent parts, how they relate to one another and the impact they have on a patient care or educational pathway).
Volunteering in low-resource settings presents interesting and unique challenges. Hard or explicit skills often learnt by volunteers include new surgical techniques, dealing with patients or children with unfamiliar, complex conditions or care needs and following ‘back-to-basics’ approaches in the absence of specific equipment or infrastructure. Many volunteers recall instances of having to think outside the box (often whilst under pressure) in order to resolve situations.
Other examples include dealing with complications which are not common in the UK. In terms of health, these might include tropical diseases, nutritional deficiencies and conditions resulting from delays or unavailability of treatment or preventative care (for example ruptured uterus, diabetic foot ulcers or advanced stage cancers). In social work or educational settings, examples might include dealing with complex safeguarding issues, supporting children with undiagnosed mental health conditions or teaching without basic teaching aids or equipment.
Exposure to Linked Areas of Practice
K4C’s model of professional volunteering promotes multidisciplinary teamworking. Most projects and interventions benefit from the input of professionals from various backgrounds. This increases their impact and makes them more holistic and sustainable. By working together, volunteers learn more about the roles and practices of different disciplines and how they link together. Volunteers can also gain research experience by engaging with and supporting our exciting action research projects.
‘Transformational’, ‘motivational’, ‘reinvigorating’ and ‘eye-opening’ are just some of the terms our previous volunteers have used to describe their placement experiences. The ability to work and live in a completely new and unfamiliar setting can be a little daunting yet extremely exciting and interesting at the same time. Being able to give something back to society, particularly those less fortunate than ourselves, is often enough to make volunteering worthwhile. Being able to challenge yourself, learn new skills, build new friendships and professional networks and immerse yourself into a new culture, environment and way of life is the icing on the cake.
We support our volunteers to make positive and sustainable changes which benefit the communities we serve, whilst at the same time having a great personal experience and getting as much out of the opportunity as possible themselves.
Having the experience of volunteering in a low-income country can greatly boost your CV and stand you apart from other candidates when applying for a new role. It can reinforce your interest in your chosen career route or alternatively provide inspiration for a change in direction; some of our previous volunteers have moved into new areas such research or international development, others have retrained in a different speciality within their field. It also provides the opportunity to build new international networks which may prove fruitful over time.