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Volunteer Abroad

volunteer abroad1 500Our Core Family Value

Our family believes that it is important for each of our children to go on a short-term trip to an area that has a significantly lower standard of living from what they know. We prefer that they go somewhere outside the country; however, there are also plenty of opportunities right on our own continent. We like for them to go towards the end of high school or early on in college.

Our Rationale

There are several reasons that we hold to this core value in our family. One is that we want our children to have a global perspective of humanity. If all they ever experience is confined to their local town and certain tourist spots they have seen on vacations, then they have an extremely limited view of how people live. Experiencing another culture and seeing social issues such as deep poverty can only expand their minds to greater issues of the world. One of them may even become a world-changer and take on a global issue because of their experiences while volunteering abroad. 

Experiences are a big part of who we are. Personal growth happens by leaving one's comfort zone. For example, if our kids have their hearts broken over children in an orphanage in a third-world country, then they may be less arrogant and have higher levels of empathy. We have often seen selfish and arrogant kids come back from a trip with a true sense of humility that lasted into adulthood.

Also, this may be one of the few opportunities to experience working on a team with like-minded individuals for a concentrated period of time. This kind of involvement with others while working towards a common goal teaches essential life skills. Camaraderie of this nature will be well remembered throughout their lives. Lifelong friendships may even develop.

It is the right thing to do. 

Serious Considerations Before Embarking

This service project idea is primarily intended for families with older children who are in their later teen years. Maturity is a factor. 

Safety has always been our primary concern with these trips. If you watch any movies or even read the news, there is plenty of examples of bad things that can happen. Do not let fear of this prevent your family from participating. Pick a group you trust and talk to the leaders about the safety precautions that are being taken. Stress to your child to stay alert and stay with the group at all times. For some trips you will need to be aware of safe drinking water and food.

Passports and planning take a while. Do not wait until the last minute to get things together. It would be a shame to have everything ready to go for a trip and miss it because some paperwork was late. Be sure to check with your insurance about global coverage.

These trips typically cost a significant amount of money. Create a family budget for the trip. Allow your child to seek sponsors from family, friends and neighbors.

Types of Opportunities

Short-term Trips. These are usually one to two weeks in length. They typically have a specific project to be done in that period of time. 

Gap Year. This is the idea of taking an entire year off from school or career and spending it abroad serving others.

Side Notes

We decided to watch the movie The Power of One with our kids when they reached a certain age. We then hold a discussion about the themes of the movie such as courage, racism and making a difference. We also let our kids tell us what they think is possible in their lives and the changes they would like to make in their community and the world. The movie may not be appropriate for younger kids in your family but it is a good story for those in their mid to late teens.

We have been blessed to attend a local religious body that sends several teams to several countries throughout the year. The purpose of the trips is not to create converts but to share love and serve. Many of the trips involve going to orphanages to perform construction projects. A few trips in previous years involved building small houses for destitute families in the most impoverished communities.

We have not included any links to specific programs that specialize in volunteering abroad. If you simply search on the term "volunteering abroad", you will see there are hundreds of organizations with whom you can connect. Know upfront that some of these are nothing more than glorified vacations. If all you want is to visit another country then this is adequate. If you desire a deeper experience, you should do some more digging beyond these organizations. Check with your local religious body. Network with other individuals who have done trips in the past. Check with local charities that send resources to other countries.

Here is something our oldest daughter wrote about one of her experiences volunteering abroad:

Going to another country is a rich experience in and of itself...But doing it for a service project  well that's another story all together. Last year I went to another country overseas to provide respite for some very burnt-out special needs "teachers" in a small school, and for some "mothers/caregivers" at a children's home. In my team of volunteers there were about 17 people. Seven of which were working on a construction project for the school, the rest of us worked on activities for kids. I was in charge of creating the overall schedule and program for our days with these students and children. As the "leader" of these activities, I feel like I had the richest experience of any on our team, though all members of the team would argue the same... I was able to interact with all of the children in a very personal way, simply by meeting them at their level, doing the same things I would do if I was babysitting; playing sports and games, doing rafts and playing piano with them. Being able to completely submerge myself in another culture, especially with children in less fortunate circumstances than I was raised, made more of an impact on me than I could have imagined. It gave me a sense of direction in school, searching to do something bigger and more meaningful with my life. Keeping myself from living a day-to-day life. I feel like this is true of anything you volunteer your time to. Donating your money, clothes etc. is very good and helpful; but it's a much richer experience to give up your time and talents to benefit someone else. Not only does it help that person but it completely changes your perspective; if we all did this from time to time. How much better would the world be? 


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Timeless Wisdom

If America is the pursuit of happiness, the best way to pursue happiness is to help other people.


- George Lucas