International Pen Pals
University of Limerick International Division
Studentvolunteer.ie is here to offer information and support students considering volunteering internationally. Information offered online provides a starting point and volunteers should visit or email Studentvolunteer.ie to learn more about international volunteering.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in volunteering abroad, often in "developing" countries. The concept of development is complex and resources below can help you unpack this term.
International volunteering can be:
Sending organisations may be:
Studentvolunteer.ie has developed the Guide to International Volunteering for students considering volunteering internationally.
Jam packed with personal stories, questions to ask sending organisations and questions to ask yourself - this guide is not only the first stop in exploring international volunteering, but also designed to support you as you travel abroad and return!
Studentvolunteer.ie does not suggest you volunteer with one particular organisation or another and we do not endorse or sanction any international organisations. We offer support and information so you can decide whether you want to volunteer and if so, which organisation with which you would like to volunteer. Reasonable precautions have been taken to ensure information in the International Volunteering publication is accurate. However it is not intended to be legally comprehensive; it is designed to provide guidance in good faith without accepting liability.
If you are open to experiencing new things, learning from other cultures, and embracing customs, then such an experience will benefit you as an individual.
Only you can know for sure if such an experience is appropriate for you. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Comhlámh's Volunteer Charter can help to guide you through the decision making process.
You as the Volunteer contact a Sending Organisation that has links around the world with Host volunteering projects. In order to ensure positive volunteering experiences of international volunteers and host communities, volunteers are encouraged to be well informed and prepared in advance of going overseas.
The Sending Organisation: These are agencies, organisations or commercial companies that arrange volunteer placements in developing countries. Sending Organisations have offices outside the destination country and recruit volunteers through these. Examples include, VSI, VSA, EVS, Habitat for Humanity, Suas, etc. You apply to the sending organisation to volunteer and they support you with training. There are a list of questions you should ask Sending Organisations below and you can check if an organisation has signed the "Code of Good Practice for Volunteer Sending Organisations" which sets out the responsibilities of organisations. The code requires agencies to ensure that volunteers are fully informed about their assignment, cultural, health and safety issues and aware of their responsibilities. Anyone interested in volunteering overseas is encouraged to consult the list of NGOs signed up to the code and the Code of Good Practice on the Comhlámh website.
The Volunteer: That is you! Volunteers need to adopt a learning approach to their volunteering. Volunteers are encouraged to read the "Comhlamh Volunteer Charter" which sets out seven principles that aim to encourage responsible, responsive international volunteering. Each principle contains a list of questions to help you make sure that you have thought about the issues raised, and that you know why they are important.
The Host Project: Host projects are the organisations or community groups in the destination country that receive volunteers. Host communities are the people with whom volunteers work and live while undertaking their overseas placements.
International Engagement Pre-Departure Training
European Voluntary Service (EVS)
The European Voluntary Service (EVS) gives 18-25 year olds the opportunity to spend from 3 weeks to 12 months in another European country, as a volunteer on a project which benefits the local community. It is funded by the EC, so the young person has all costs paid for (travel, insurance, accommodation, language tuition etc).
Where can I learn more about EVS? Learn all about EVS on the Leargas website. Leargas are the national agency which promote and support EVS volunteering:
Key Action 1: Mobility projects for young people and youth workers (Youth Exchanges, EVS, Trainings)
Visit STUDENTVOLUNTEER.IE in the Hub, Áras na Mac Léinn for advice and support and tips on great Expression of Interest Letters.
European Voluntary Service (EVS): free international volunteering opportunities in Europe! EVS is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Don't miss out on this unique chance to work with youth in Italy, an environmental project in Germany, people with disabilities in Poland, new communities in France..the list goes on!
Things to Consider
Here are our basics to take into consideration when deciding to volunteer internationally.
There are numerous accommodations types offered. Accommodations may be dormitory style, with a host family, at a campsite or in some cases private living quarters. If the programme does not provide housing you will need to find out if the programme you select is able to help you locate housing.
When looking into programmes you may want to consider the political, religious, etc. affiliations the programme has. For example, if you are looking into a programme that is affiliated with a particular religious group you may want to inquire about how the aim/goals of the programmes may or may not be affected by this affiliation.
Note how long a programme requires for an application to be processed. Often you will need a recommendation letter, which you may want to seek out before you begin looking for programmes.
Charity vs. Compassion
The difference between charity and compassion centres around your role as a volunteer. You should not enter the programme thinking that you can change the world or that your way is the right way. Instead you should focus on the learning experience that can come out of such an opportunity. Be open to being taught new ideas and seek to make connections with the people you will work with.
Worth consideration is the programme size. Will you be working alongside other volunteers or will you be placed with a programme on your own? Do volunteers begin in waves or are they all placed at the same time? Also does the programme you are considering have a group leader/supervisor on the project with you?
Ensure there is an Irish Embassy in the country you will be volunteering and know how to reach the Embassy by phone. You can prepare this information before hand by visiting the Irish Embassy website. This is particular important as passports can go missing! The Department of Foreign Affairs website is very helpful
Are the projects defined and does the programme clearly outline your duties for the duration of your volunteering? Do you know what the programme expects from you? Have you made your expectations of the programme known?
Some programmes require a fee for participants. How much of this fee goes towards your insurance, travel, etc. Ask for a breakdown. Does funding go directly to the community you will be volunteering with on the ground?
Are meals part of your programme fee? If so how many meals are day are provided? Is the water in the region potable? Also if you have certain dietary restrictions inform your programme before you arrive.
Medical and Travel Insurance
Does the programme provide an insurance plan? If your programme does not include insurance you will need to check your current insurance plan to see if you will be covered while abroad, if not you may want to look into purchasing a temporary international health coverage plan.
Does your programme provide an orientation process? Is there a debriefing process after your trip? Have you spent time researching the region you will be visiting; cultural customs, dress, food, weather, religion, politics, etc. Does your programme have some process of integrating you into the community you are entering?
This will depend on the region you are travelling to. Make sure to look up the seasonal weather patterns for the time frame you will be travelling. To get a better idea of items needed contact your sending agency.
Research the area you are travelling and remember to ensure your personal safety at all times.
Is there a support system in the country? Will there be a director/liaison person nearby? In the case of political unrest, does your programme have an evacuation plan? What do you need to do in the case of a serious medical emergency? How often will your programme be in contact with you?
Unless you are staying for more than a couple of months you will more than likely only need a passport. However to know for sure you will need to contact the Sending Organisation. Also keep in mind that getting a visa is a process that can take between a few weeks and a few months.
Comhlamh - Volunteering Options : Visit the Comhlámh Volunteer Programme website to find out everything there is to know about international volunteering.
Dochas : Guide to choosing an effective overseas development NGO. Visit the Dochas website for great tips on recognising effective NGOs, with their guide on questions to ask and special website on emergency help How You Can Help. Taking pictures while you are overseas? Read the Dochas guide to good images.
Galway One World Centre : GOWC is a meeting point for people looking for information on a variety of development topics, including Human Rights, Anti-Racism, and Globalisation. They are located in Galway-drop in for a visit!
Irish Aid - Volunteer Centre : The Irish Aid website acts as a guide to volunteering, allowing the individual to review all the options available to them - short term, long term, online volunteering or volunteering in Ireland in support of overseas development. This website also helps individuals to start thinking about volunteering, to look at the various options, question why they want to volunteer and what do they want to get out of their assignment.
Idealist.org : The Idealist.org International Volunteerism Resource Center (IVRC) is an online resource designed to help you make informed decisions about volunteering in another country.
Washington Ireland Program : The Washington-Ireland Program for Service and Leadership (WIP), is a six-month program of personal and professional development that brings outstanding Protestant and Catholic university students from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to Washington, DC for summer internships and leadership training. The program begins and ends with practical service in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
World Volunteer Web : The World Volunteer Web supports the volunteer community by serving as a global clearinghouse for information and resources linked to volunteerism that can be used for campaigning, advocacy and networking. It is an online hub where the community can meet, share resources and coordinate activities to mobilize volunteer action in support of the Millennium Development Goals.
United Nations Volunteers: The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in tackling development challenges, and it can transform the pace and nature of development. Volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.
Department of Foreign Affairs: The Department of Foreign Affairs' website offers a range of information that will be of use to people who are travelling overseas. This includes information on passports, visas and insurance. Read the travel advice!
Tropical Medical Bureau: Important medical updates and summaries - a must read!
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