Taking a leap of faith – A Short Guide To Volunteering Abroad
Updated: Nov 3
Hey, I'm Toyin. Volunteering has always been a passion of mine, to sum up my way of thinking “if you give to others, others will give to you”. Since I was 16, I have volunteered for various different companies within the medical sector e.g. hospitals and care homes. I enjoyed these experiences so much that I began to look at ways in which I could combine it with another pleasure of mine, travelling, and do some volunteering abroad.
The opportunity came in September 2019, when I was awarded funding for an independent project by the University of Warwick's Rootes Memorial fund, titled “Tackling the stigma of special needs in the third world”. This focused on interviewing a number of professionals (in both the UK and Kenya) about the quality of care for people with special needs in their respective countries.
I travelled to the capital of Kenya (Nairobi) and volunteered within a school for pupils with special needs over a two week time period, in order to formulate an idea of how the pupils were being catered for. This experience in itself was life changing, with many months spent planning and preparing.
We all have our own unique ways of preparing for excursion’s, but below is a list of essential steps when going on a volunteering trip abroad:
1. Research: Familiarise yourself with the culture, language, local cuisine and geographical surroundings of the country you’ll be relocating to.
2. Budgeting: Changing money into the correct currency and planning costs for your time abroad is necessary (particularly if you want to take part in extra-curricular activities).
3. Booking Flights: Use platforms such as Skyscanner/Google flights to book your flights. Check over a range of weeks to track the flight prices and secure the best deals.
4. Accommodation: Most volunteering companies offer package deals, including food and accommodation, so if this is on offer definitely take advantage of this. If this is not offered, ask to connect with previous volunteers and see what their recommendations are.
5. Health insurance: Make sure to get your health insurance when travelling abroad, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Additionally, look into any medications/vaccinations that may be needed to visit a particular country, and book these far ahead of time.
6. Networking: Join social media forums e.g. Facebook groups to gain insight into what to expect from previous volunteers.
7. (and most importantly) Personal reflection: Think about why you’re volunteering. This experience was a part of a funded project, however giving back to the world through volunteering was a personal fulfilment of mine.
As an aspiring medic, helping people has become second nature to me, but I can definitely say that volunteering abroad has provided me with a new outlook on life, allowing me to recognise my privilege and, appreciate an array of outlooks and experiences.