5 Things To Know About Group Volunteering Overseas

giraffe watchingThere has always been a great deal of focus on, and information aimed at, individual overseas volunteers – brave souls heading out into the wide blue yonder to a foreign country, alone and vulnerable but ready and willing to pitch in where help is needed. Indeed, the whole process of volunteering might well appeal especially to rugged individualists, those who want to dip their toes into strange waters, immerse themselves in exotic cultures, and leave behind everything comfortable and familiar.

However, there’s a growing trend for teams or groups of people to get involved in volunteering. Groups of people with similar interests and mindsets can be powerfully effective working at suitable volunteer projects - as the African proverb says, “Wisdom is like a baobab tree – it takes a group to embrace it.” The members of the group have the benefits of having familiar faces around them in a strange place – and of course, there’s safety in numbers.

If group volunteering is something you and your group of choice take an interest in, here are the main things to consider while you decide if this type of volunteering is for you.

  1. Groups of individuals who decide to volunteer together are more than likely already used to working together on projects, before they ever even considered overseas volunteering. A united team can be a very useful addition to a volunteer project – many hands make light work. Even if the individuals perform different functions at the project, team co-operation will have a number of benefits – jobs get completed faster, more attention can be spent on individuals at the project while other more general tasks are being seen to, and the locals working at the volunteer project get first-hand experience of this type of delegation and co-operation. They’ll be able to pass on their knowledge to their own groups, whether at the project or outside it in other spheres of the community.
  2. Before you get excited and start signing up everyone at your hiking club, bear in mind that volunteering opportunities for groups can be a lot more challenging to organise than for individuals – and the larger the group, the harder it is to find those opportunities. This is especially true if the group consists of a number of people under 18, for example, or seniors. Planning and forethought are your group’s biggest allies in this process.

Finding the RIGHT volunteer project for your specific group could take a lot of effort and time. The infrastructure of the project and your support organisation needs to be the right ‘fit’ for your group, or your efforts and money could be wasted. Even once you find a suitable project for your group, you may have to book months in advance to ensure they can accommodate and utilise all the members of your group.

Make sure the members of your volunteer group are aware of the homework they’ll need to do, and the probable length of time they will have to wait before they can sign on the dotted line, and ring the dog sitters!

  1. Even in close-knit or highly co-operative groups, trying to reach consensus on what kind of project to volunteer at could be the most challenging part of your entire volunteering experience.

Say Mike is keen on teaching but Alan doesn’t really get along with children, Sarah wants to get involved in sports coaching but Diane hasn’t run in years, and so on – you get the idea! There’s no magic wand you can wave to get everyone to settle on a joint venture – the only solution is discuss, discuss, discuss. Then go home and sleep on it, let each individual consider how much they are prepared to compromise their own needs to settle on a project that suits everyone, and will be most beneficial to the community it serves – and get up and discuss some more.

It sounds almost as serious as a Grand Jury decision, and you might be thinking “But that’s not our group, WE’RE not like that, we agree on everything.” Be assured that it’s better for everyone to put their cards on the table and be completely honest BEFORE you end up somewhere you really didn’t want to be, and already feeling a bit downhearted before you even tackle the work at the volunteer project. The good news is that a project that will provide a chance for everyone to contribute, and to maximise their experience, is out there. You will find it!

  1.  Get all your members involved in the planning and research, and streamline your process by appointing one capable volunteer to collate the information that the other members have gathered, then relay it to the rest of the group. This will help eliminate duplicated efforts and time-wasting. The ‘chosen one’ could assign each group member to liaise with specific volunteer organisations, and discuss the details of projects available in-depth with the organisers, so there’s no surprises. Members could also approach volunteers who have already had experience in group volunteering for advice, reviews and field reports. Remember to get everyone together for a group de-brief after the project is finished – it will help everyone to crystallise the experience in their minds, and they’ll be able pass valuable information and insights onto others thinking of group volunteering. 
  1. Last but not least – you might be able to get group discounts on flights and accommodation, if you do your research – and every penny saved will be a penny you can donate to the volunteer project, or spend on a group outing in your host country and have some fun. A well-run volunteer organisation will be able to give you some information and insights on how to use your numbers to your advantage.

All in all, the experience of group volunteering can be challenging to organise and require a bit more legwork than signing up to volunteer as an individual or a couple. Don’t be put off by the logistics, they won’t detract from your experience - in fact, the volunteering experience might well be enhanced greatly by the elements of co-operation and friendship. “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.”


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