Why volunteer abroad?

I’ve had a couple of people ask me recently how I find volunteering in Honduras and whether I’d recommend it… and Laura and I have debated a couple of times whether we would recommend ICYE (Inter-Cultural Youth Exchange programme). Well it’s complicated. I know that I have absolutely loved my experience here so far, and while I can be moody sometimes as Laura so loves to remind me, I am a pretty positive person. In fact, I think my time in Honduras has made me a better person in many ways already. I am more positive, carefree and, actually, more grown up. Shocker right?! I am still silly and childish most of the time, and it still takes me about 10 minutes longer than others to catch onto jokes… but I think I have actually found maturity somewhere in amongst all that. When people have done not so good things to me recently, I won’t name names, I have let it go really quickly and just moved on. I used to find it sooo difficult to forgive people quickly but now I just don’t see the point in harbouring bad feelings about things that don’t matter in the great scheme of things, especially when there were good intentions in there somewhere. Anyway, that wasn’t the point I was making (I guess I haven’t fixed my habit of waffling then) – I was going to make the point that I have been quite positive about my time in Honduras, while other volunteers have had a much more negative experience. So I don’t want to harp on about what am amazing time I’ve had, and potentially encourge someone reading this to volunteer, as obviously my point of view is going to be a lot different to someone like Maja, who left Honduras 4 months in as she felt too in danger here. But I will do my best to give some, relatively, unbiased pros and cons below…

Pros:

1. You will grown as a person. As I already waffled on about above, you will learn more about yourself (maybe, even ‘find yourself’!!) and hopefully improve. I know that Brynja, when she left, was so happy that she became a lot more independent from her time volunteering and discovered that she could look after herself more than she had imagined before.

2. You will help others. Let’s be honest, as much as you may want to, you aren’t going to change the world. Nothing close to that even. But you might just change the lives of a few people, even in the smallest way, and it will be worth it. It means a lot to people in Honduras, who need help, that someone has bothered to come all the way from Europe to try and give something. That they are at least being considered as needing help. We have so many TV adverts, campaigns etc. for Africa in the UK, but Central America gets largely ignored despite its many problems.

3. You will make life long friends – and a much more interesting diversity of friends. I have met the most amazing friends here that despite the distance when I go home, I know I will make a huge effort to keep in touch with. I already know I will definitely be coming back to Honduras, at least to visit, and part of the reason for that is I have made best friends here. It sucks that I won’t be able to see them much at all, but they are a huge part of my experience here and I’ve learnt so much more from having them

4. You will learn soooo much more than you would studying, or probably even working. I did a degree in geography for 3 years and a masters in human rights for one year – both at big financial cost. But I learnt more in one month here than I did during 4 years of studying. Volunteering abroad in a country like Honduras will literally shake you up and change everything you thought about the World – hopefully in a good way. Sometimes it is depressing yes, and frustrating that there is nothing you can do to really change it in a big way, but at least to me it seems really important to learn that however bad you have it on a bad day at work, or when your boyfriend dumps you… you could have it a whole lot worse.

5. You will be the envy of your friends. I can’t emphasise enough how nice it is to be enjoying myself in Honduras and go on facebook and see people back home complaining about the weather, their crappy job, the stupid politics. And you will recieve countless emails from your friends saying how jealous they are and what an amazing thing you are doing. Obviously that isn’t why I chose to come to Honduras, but when I’m having a crappy day, it’s definitely a good reminder of why I am here and why I definitely chose the right thing for me.

 Cons:

1. The cost. Despite what you expect, and what your parents etc. insist, it is damnnnn expensive. So many people expect that you’re volunteering your time, so it should be free right?! It’s not… nowhere near. The cost of just my volunteer fee was around £4,200 – I managed to raise about £1,500 through fundraising for my trip but to raise the rest I worked, sold my Pandora bracelet and my beloved car, Hugo. And then there is spending money – despite Honduras being so much cheaper than the UK, I have still managed to spend way more than I expected. Honduras is still affected by western culture – with it’s expensive malls, luxury bus companies and americanised tourist driven Islands – so it is easy to spend money quickly. So if you are going to volunteer, don’t expect that it will be cheap.

2. Cultural differences. This actually hasn’t affected me too much although the culture is definitely very different – but for me, one of the reasons I volunteered was to live somewhere completely different to the country I found so boring. But if you need home comforts and familiarity, then you could find it quite disorientating. And on those days where you just want to be home and everything be normal, the country you’re in isn’t going to understand that, and will most likely throw something your way to make you want to go home even more. But these days are rare thankfully…

3. It might not be what you were hoping for. My project was everything I wanted and I love it… but the same couldn’t be said for my host family. The situation ended up getting me so down, I had to change host family. Which I’m glad of now, but at the time I was so disappointed not to gel with the family I was orginally assigned to. I know other volunteers have been unhappy with their projects too so you have to be careful about what you are expecting and manage them so you won’t be disappointed if everything isn’t perfect.

4. You will be responsible for you’re family, especially your mum, worrying. All I can say is, try not to tell the whole truth… the scary bits can wait until you’re home, jsut so your mum can rest easy at night. The fact that your friend got mugged at gun point the other day isn’t going to make your parents sleep very well for a while… (Also, on the topic of home, you will miss out on things at home – your’s friends going out, their break up and make ups, maybe even weddings, births and funerals. I don’t think this should stop you going for it, but just be ready to deal with the jealousy, guilt etc…)

5. Ermmm… I can’t think of anything worthy of number 5. Maybe missing English chocolate? So I guess homesickness is a part of it… the food, the culture, the familiar things of home. But really, that would be a silly reason to not go volunteering. And, trust me, it makes you appreciate home a whole lot more which is a good thing.

And, ICYE in particular. There are obviously good and bad things which I won’t go into to much, as obviously this is all just from my own experience and I know others have better and worse opinions than me. Overall though, I would definitely recommend ICYE as an organisation to volunteer with – the staff are really friendly, they are (almost) always available to help and it is a great way to meet more people while volunteering as it is a huge network of volunteers.

So overall, I would say to anyone that volunteering abroad is worthwhile and the experience definitely outweights the expense, homesickness etc. You will never regret that you did – and really what is the alternative? Most likely sitting at a desk doing a job you’re not all that keen on and just waiting for the weekend all week. So my suggestion is… JUST DO IT!

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