Making a Lasting Impact Abroad as a Short-Term Volunteer
By Ruth Curran, Brain Development Specialist and Global Volunteer Director of Partnerships.
You can find plenty of articles questioning the value of short-term volunteers on long-term community projects. But I wonder how many of these authors have participated on authentic development projects managed by fully invested local leaders? As in everything, the truth is in the experience. I chose to volunteer abroad short-term for the satisfaction of working with a global leader, and became so convinced by my experience, I joined the Board of Directors. Now, as a staff member, I see the long-term impacts that short-term volunteers have on comprehensive development.
The Power of Short-Term Volunteers
I experienced the transformational power of short-term volunteering first-hand when serving with Global Volunteers on the St. Lucia Project. It really is a beautifully simple model. I volunteered in the Primary School and this is how it worked:
The Global Volunteers tutoring model provides a notebook to record needs and progress for each student. After every session with a student, each short-term volunteer who works with the student notes not just what that student did (exercises, competency, completion) but how that child reacted and how they learned – what worked and what didn’t. This ensures continuity of knowledge between teams, and from one short-term volunteer to another. So, for instance, on Sunday night before my first day working in the community, as part of my prep and training for Monday’s work at the Primary School, I got a schedule of students and every student’s notebook to review.
As I started to read, I realized why these notebooks were so important. These were not just learning histories but also a peek into each child’s style, strengths, and challenges. Global Volunteers retains each notebook so every short-term volunteer contributes in a way to make that record – the child’s life – richer and more meaningful. It becomes a living history of how to help that child learn.
Of course, I was still nervous and had to adjust to all of those human elements and unexpected things that would invariably happen, but handing down wisdom from one short-term volunteer to the next makes the road much smoother for the children we serve – and that’s critical.
Serving at that Primary School was first and foremost about sharing with those children, and helping each on their path to make the most of that day – and maybe empowering their future. The fact that we had a “sneak preview” helped me feel like I knew each on some level before even seeing their faces.
“You Can Volunteer Abroad and Experience the Global Volunteers Difference.”
At its core though, I believe that Global Volunteers’ short-term volunteer model works for an even simpler reason: continuity. The key players at each and every work site at each and every community are always the in-country partners. The program, though established by Global Volunteers, belongs to St. Lucia and Anse le Raye (and is the same around the world), and is therefore that community’s benefit. That does not waiver. Each short-term volunteer abroad is a “link in a chain” that maintains the momentum of each work project. But, it requires equal local effort. I heard a work project get cancelled because none of the local people showed up – all the short-term volunteers on that project on that day were reassigned for the day. Yes, that created more work for the team leader, but doing for instead of doing with is not part of the Global Volunteers I have gotten to know.
That is the difference. Global Volunteers supports, lifts up, and shares wisdom. It does not deliver, dictate, or even lead. They support and serve local communities in a way that the face of each short-term volunteer is not the important part – we are all interchangeable because we are prepared well and instructed on the projects. The important part is Global Volunteers’ relationship with in-community partners and those who live in the community every day.
While short-term volunteering has gotten a bad rap because of ill-conceived and DIY efforts, we know that a steady stream of short-term volunteers, simply put, can change lives and the world. Chat online with one of our Volunteer Coordinators to learn more about how you can volunteer abroad short-term make an impact long-term.
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