Dr Siobhán Neville is currently volunteering with the Lindi Region Health Management Team (RHMT) in Tanzania
If you're not volunteering already, there are plenty of reasons why you should be. Not only can it bring about change for less fortunate people and communities, there are plenty of personal rewards to be reaped as well…
Increase your job prospects
We may be getting over the worst of the economic recession but that doesn't mean all sectors have fully recovered. If you're finding it difficult to secure your dream role in Ireland, it may be time to start looking into volunteering opportunities abroad. VSO roles are designed for qualified professionals so they won't suit if you're a recent graduate without a few years' of experience under your belt. They can, however, offer the perfect solution to those who are a little further on in their careers and want to gain more experience within their sector. For instance, many volunteers who work in education are able to expand their experience of management and training by taking up some of VSO's Education Management positions.
Keep doing what you love
Volunteering roles are also open to retired professionals, meaning you don't have to give up doing what you love just because you've reached the age of 65. Many retirees have commented on how exhilarating taking on an overseas placement has been. Tim O’Connor, a retired primary school teacher said of his placement in Cambodia – "This experience has energised and challenged me in equal measures and I've no regrets around taking such a life-changing decision". Volunteers like Tim have the opportunity to use their time constructively and continue to develop their skills while helping others living in extreme poverty. Win-win!
Reinvigorate your career
Working on a development programme, no day is the same. Thrown into your deep end, your abilities are constantly tested, forcing you to be the best version of yourself at all times. As well as sharing your knowledge and skills, you are learning new things all the time. This can be very appealing if you have been in the same career for a while and feel stuck in a rut. The job satisfaction you enjoy – knowing that you shared your skills to changes lives or brought people in a community together – is something you will remember long after you return home.
VSO volunteer Tom O'Donoghue and head teacher Miza Juma Hamid at Mtoni School in Zanzibar
Become part of a community
A VSO placement typically lasts 12 months or more, although some shorter term placements are available. On placement, you are given the opportunity to fully integrate into the local community and develop meaningful relationships with the people you work with. You don't just visit a different society – you become part of it, absorbing the culture in a way you can't in a shorter period. Many of the world's most disadvantaged communities are also the smallest, meaning volunteers find themselves knowing the whole village or town’s inhabitants early into their placement. These close-knit relationships make implementing positive change, whether it's in a school, hospital or government body, much easier. As Michelle Duffy, a Teaching Methodology Advisor placed in Rwanda, said, "You build positive working relationships and trust. You can see progress being made and the local teachers start to see you as a trusted friend."
Discover a new side of yourself
The impact volunteering has goes beyond the programme and community's inhabitants – it also affects your own development. You don't just add some strings to your bow career-wise – you also enjoy a level of personal growth that is just not possible back home in Ireland. This was one of the main benefits for Béibhinn Ní Mhuirí, who volunteered as a Teaching Methodology Advisor in Rwanda – "I've learnt that I'm really strong and there's a lot of things I can live without. I never thought I would be the type of person who would enjoy volunteering but it's really shown me that I can make a difference."
The real value of volunteering is the exchange of ideas shared and connections made. Not only can you change the lives of people in need – they will also teach you life-long skills and help you to uncover a new side of yourself. Start thinking about volunteering as a mutually beneficial agreement and you'll come to understand its true value.
Volunteer with VSO Ireland
Convinced yet? If you're interested in helping VSO Ireland to improve the lives of people living in poverty around the world, please take a look at our current volunteer vacancies.