Why You Should Volunteer Abroad

By Trilby Goouch
Blogs Editor

I was lucky enough to partake in a two-week service trip to the Dominican Republic in 2008, and to this day I consider this to be the happiest two weeks of my life. My school was involved with the organization PowerTrips Inc., a program that organizes high school aid trips to the DR. I think the most profound effect of a service trip is the experience of selflessness; for two solid weeks, I wasn’t exposed to mirrors, magazines, malls, TV — anything superficial.

Instead, we put all of our energy into improving the lives of others, and this gave me the first-hand experience of real happiness versus the temporary kind we get from consuming products, food and the like.

Perhaps the most difficult part of a service trip is coming home; we tend to me more inclined to take on this selfless, charitable attitude when we are placed in another country or culture, and yet it’s just as necessary to perform such acts of kindness on our own turf.

I’ve yet to meet someone who hasn’t benefited from a service trip. I’ve had friends travel to South Africa to teach at local schools and India to improve water systems and everyone agrees that you experience a level of happiness and fulfilment that is incomparable to life prior to the trip.

My trip consisted of improving and building schools for the local children; this included making desks, chairs, painting walls and murals, landscaping for playgrounds and bringing in school supplies from back home. One of my favourite memories of the trip was introducing the kids to their new schools. Not only was it satisfying to look back at what we accomplished, but the excitement and happiness of the children brought us all to tears.

I was and still am to this day amazed at their zest for life given their living conditions. Many of the families we worked with lived on or beside landfills, and most housing consisted of a mish-mash of cardboard and mud. Shoes were a rarity, and the abundance of garbage made for a permanent unpleasant odour. We all agreed that the Dominican people showed that there is an element of truth to the saying “more money, more problems”.

So how can you get involved? It’s never too late; it simply takes planning and saving. Many students choose to travel after their undergrad, whether it’s to South America, Asia, Europe or Australia. Having spent a month travelling Europe last summer, I can confidently say I’ll be spend part of my year off next year volunteering; true, Europe was beautiful and a great experience, but incomparable to the hands-on work in the DR. I highly recommend looking into service trip organizations as an alternative way of travelling and exposing yourself to new and diverse cultures.

Here are a few resources to get you started:

Projects Abroad: Includes volunteer, intern and GAP trips to various countries

Go International: Includes teaching and volunteer opportunities

Volunteerabroad.ca: Trips are organized based on healthcare, childcare, environmental and teaching projects

African Impact: Volunteer at a chimpanzee conservation centre!

Animal Experience International: Catered to those interested in entering veterinary practice, or college/university students interested in experiencing something new

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