How I recognised volunteer opportunities in India and whilst travelling
This article is a continuation of my previous article, How To Find Volunteer Opportunities While Travelling . In this article, I will take you through the journey of my own volunteer journey. My hope is that through these examples, you will get ideas of how to look for opportunities for volunteering.
At the outset, I just want to be clear that we don’t always need a platform or a name brand volunteer organisation to give something back to the community. There are always opportunities all around us. Before, I go any further – I want to emphasize something – most countries consider it illegal work if you undertake volunteer opportunities without the appropriate visa/ sponsorship by a volunteer organisation. As a tourist, they may prefer you to do the touristy things as the tourist dollars are more beneficial to the economy.
My own preferred way to volunteer is to “teach people how to fish” rather than feeding them fish. Giving them money or buying them clothes and food for the week, for me, is a band aid solution because the recipient will end up approaching another traveller with a ‘victim story’ to have their needs met.
In this article, I want to share some of my/others’ volunteer experiences and overseas – some of them were on volunteer platforms and some of them once-off, random opportunities. I hope this gives you some ideas to make a contribution to the world around you, wherever you are.
Firstly, I got very clear about my own natural strengths and talents which are: helping people start/improve their business through basic marketing strategies, study skills, teaching English, teaching yoga and public speaking on life skills. I also had to get clear on how much time I can comfortably and happily give – it was about an hour to 3 hours a week – which was very doable. It’s not always about how much time you spend or how much sweat you shed – sometimes it’s just a matter of just showing someone a strategy or two that shifts their thinking to a new direction.
Technical Training Centre for the deaf-mute, Bangalore, India: My very first volunteer experience was with the teenage deaf-mute through the college I studied. It was an inspirational experience. We worked as a Teacher Assistants in the classroom and helped students with their studies. We helped them with organising talent shows. This interaction helped them feel more comfortable interacting with the hearing community and it helped the hearing community understand the world of the deaf-mute.
I was an international student in Australia and whilst I studied, I worked as an education guide on some weekends where I led discovery sessions for students. For e.g. a part of the museum was sectioned off as an archaeological site and children would pretend to be archaeologists and excavate the site and find a bone, metal objects, cookware. The guide would ask them discovery questions so that the children could use their imagination and guess and make up a story of their excavation finds.
There was one time I got off a bus at a historical site and I notice a frail elderly man selling traditional kitchen utensils, handmade out of wood and coconut shells– such as a yoghurt churner and vegetable scraper. His items of sale weren’t exactly touristy, so he wasn’t selling much. Plus, tourists did not know how to use it. When I started to demonstrate how to use those items to my fellow tourists, more people started coming to his spot. I got him to memorise some of the instructions in very basic English and he started to demonstrate it himself and by the time I finished my one hour tour, his products were sold out to a bus load of tourists. I also helped him with a sign written in English describing his products. This really took me only a fraction of an hour.
I had an amazing group motorbike trip and I was the pillion rider in Vietnam. The modest tour company had a unique set up. It was run by 7 brothers and a sister who managed the motorbike trips. An Australian lady had helped them set up a unique model of the business when they had bad times. They had a theme song/jingle which was very catchy, and the tourists were encouraged to sing along during the ride. They also had a series of jokes and narratives about each of the landmarks on the way which made the tourists laugh. The jingle and the stories and jokes had become the trademark and they were usually booked out.
I was travelling solo in Syria and I had a very friendly and professional taxi driver who showed me around for a week. I helped him design a business card and improve the presentation in his taxi to upgrade his service for better paying customers. For e.g. stock up on magazines, have an ice cube storage box so he can stock up on water and cold drinks.
I had met expat wives who had accompanied their husbands to Kuwait. They were unable to find work although they had a Bachelor’s/Master’s degree in Science and Math because they could not speak English and needed confidence building and job search skills. I ran some sessions with them on Friday mornings for several months, teaching them English. I also included basic telephone conversation skills practise in English, interview skills and image management skills. Some developed enough confidence to go to a few interviews. A couple landed jobs. For the other lady whose English still had a long way to go, I helped her draft an advertisement for Math and Science tuitions and she ended up earning more money than regular employment by running Maths/Science tuitions from the comfort of her home for children who speak her own language. She just needed to be shown how to turn her perceived weakness to strengths. I only invested 90 minutes on the weekend for these ladies.
I worked in Ibra in Oman – what I considered a remote area for me then. 4 years ago, it took about 90 min-120 min drive to Muscat – the closest city to go to a modern hospital, have access to cheese, pasta, fresh noodles, restaurants, shopping centres and importantly – gyms. Ibra had basic coffee shops with plastic chairs for men, small supermarkets with basic vegetables and staple food but no places to go for women – no gyms, no modern coffee shops, restaurants/cafes, beauty parlours, shopping centres, cinemas or magazines.
So, I started teaching basic yoga classes for women in the front yard of a generous friend’s villa. It helped the women manage our stress and bond with each other. One of them taught the same stretches, breathing exercises to her sister-in-law all the way in Scotland when she visited her there. So good things have a way of spreading out.
Pathways to Human Solidarity, Jeddah (thanks to ‘Mama Shareefa’ as she is fondly called) has been an excellent platform to share my knowledge and experience through guest speaking sessions about life skills, leading yoga and breathing exercises during monthly sessions.
In my view, when we know our strengths and what we can give easily, we are more likely to be opportunity-ready and serve the community easily. The most important point is, it takes only an hour or less to make a difference to someone when we know what we are good at and what we can give. In my next article, “Stepping into an ad hoc volunteer leadership role”, I will discuss ways to make your volunteer leadership experience a smoother and hopefully a more fulfilling one.