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The benefits of volunteering at home and abroad

Without volunteers, VSO Ireland (Voluntary Service Overseas) wouldn't exist – that much is obvious from our name alone. Our education and healthcare programmes wouldn't have helped some of the world's most disadvantaged people. We wouldn't have changed policies and practices in marginalised communities for the better. And I certainly wouldn't be writing this blog post.

The value of volunteering is something that has long been the focus of our research – we even compiled an in-depth report on the subject following two years of research and field work. But what are the ways in which volunteers really bring about positive change the world over?

VSO volunteer Lisa McMahon working as a Teaching Methodology Advisor in Murehe Primary School

Understanding needs

A common failure in the development sector is making assumptions about the needs of poor and marginalised communities but not asking people on the ground. This is where volunteers come in. Living in a community for months on end, volunteers develop trusting relationships with local people and take time to understand their frustrations. They are trained to ask localised research questions and adapt development processes to suit the society in which they are based. It's because of this that volunteers are so valued in these communities. In South Sudan, for example, 12 out of 13 partners we previously worked with said they would rather have a VSO volunteer for a year than $35,000 in cash to spend however they liked.

Extending services

In many countries there is an extensive network of schools, hospitals, security service and social protection schemes but poor people do not have access to these. Volunteers bridge this gap, helping the existing public service workforce to extend these services to the communities they have been set up for. For instance, in Mozambique, the number of AIDS patients receiving Home Based Case rose from 17,790 to 99,122 between 2004 and 2008, thanks to services provided by local volunteers and health activists. Volunteering, in this way, improves the resources that are available to poor people on a day to day basis.

Iphegenia Milembe Frolian, Claire Nic Gabhann and Lucy Niwagila Luckson at the Kamondo Primary School in Tanzania

Exchanging knowledge

The true value of volunteering goes beyond simply passing on skills – it's about working closely with individuals in a community and collaborating to create the best possible solution. Just as those individuals are developing new techniques or skills, volunteers have to adapt their way of thinking and are learning more every day. Everyone is forced to think outside the box! The merge of 'insider' and 'outsider' knowledge means that ideas are much more innovative than would ever be possible without volunteering.

Boosting the economy

Volunteers are an extremely valuable resource, not just in developing countries but in Ireland too. Volunteer Ireland reported that in 2013 volunteers clocked up an amazing 230 million hours of volunteering, equating to a value of over €5 billion for the Irish economy. Since the recession, the number of Irish volunteers has increased – more people have looked to volunteering opportunities to develop their skills and use their time constructively. It's because of volunteers that organisations have continued to thrive across all sectors – cultural institutions, community groups and development charities to name but a few.

The facts speak for themselves – last year alone, 800,000 children received better education services, over 1.1 million people received health care and more than a quarter of a million people were supported towards developing a more secure means of making a living, all because of VSO volunteers. Volunteers are changing lives for the better every day – and for that, we say a massive thank you!

Ready to start volunteering?

VSO have placements all over Africa and Asia working around core development areas. If you want the opportunity to change lives and share your skills, then take a look of our current volunteer vacancies.

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