5 reasons that make volunteering with children worthwhile
Volunteering in childcare overseas has had some bad press over the years and it is true that you need to be careful what you are signing up to. However, if arranged properly, childcare volunteering can be immensely rewarding, not just for you, the volunteer, but also for the children and communities that you are there to help.
Oyster Worldwide have compiled 5 reasons that make volunteering with children on a meaningful break or your gap year worthwhile...
1. Do it for the right reason – is there a need for you?
Make sure you research the organisation and programme thoroughly before booking. Is the organisation working with projects that actually have a need for volunteers?
Increasingly, we read stories of people heading overseas to work in an ‘orphanage’ only to find, on arrival, that the children have parents and have been brought to the orphanage as a way for the organisation to make money. This has been a particular issue in countries such as Cambodia but has also been discovered in Africa too.
2. Your chance to help others
Your main motivation for volunteering with children is hopefully to help others. If you can commit the time required to settle in to a project working with children, you really can make a positive impact on those children’s lives.
I mention ‘time’ for an important reason. The longer you can spend on childcare programmes, the better. Short term volunteering, of one or two weeks with children, is of little benefit. These projects take time to settle in to, it can take up to a month to feel settled in your accommodation and feel that you know what you are doing each day with the children. If you are only there for two weeks, how will you get that experience to know what to do, immerse yourself and make the most out of your experience? Short term volunteering is also of little benefit to the children that you are there to work with. If children see a constant stream of short term volunteers, they feel very little stability.
3. To work with children, or not?
Many volunteers sign up to a childcare programme with little previous experience. Spending 12 weeks volunteering with children is a really good way of testing out a particular career route. We have had lots of volunteers who, over the years, have gone on to study childcare or teaching at university. Many of them changed their original study plans based on their experience of working with children overseas and gone on to be very successful teachers and childcare professionals.
If you are considering a career in teaching or childcare, volunteering overseas is a great way to give your CV a boost and show future employers that have worked in more challenging environments. On the other hand, we have experience of volunteers who, whilst they had a rewarding experience working with children, realised that a career working with children was not going to be for them!
4. Learn about other cultures
Working alongside local staff and living within small communities overseas gives volunteers a fantastic opportunity to get a unique insight into a new culture. At Oyster, we would encourage you to immerse yourself as much as possible into local life and to make friends with local people. As a previous volunteer in Tanzania myself, making friends with the staff broke down barriers and opened doors. Yes, it’s difficult to get past the language barrier at first, but so, so worth it! From dinners with staff to end of term parties, I got to see and experience everyday life in Tanzania.
Some of our volunteers live with families as part of the programme are treated like one of the family. If there’s a family wedding, chances are you’ll be invited along as well – such a great opportunity and one that you wouldn’t experience as a back packer, just passing through. Not only will you learn about other cultures, it gives local people the opportunity to learn about your culture. Working in cooperation, and learning about each other, is one of the highlights for the projects that we work with.
5. It’s FUN!
A big part of your gap year or career break is surely about enjoying yourself? Working with a group of children should be fun, and rewarding, for both you and the children. Seeing the smile on a child’s face when they learn a new skill, that you have taught them, is so satisfying.
Outside of a formal classroom setting, you can have a lot of fun in the games and activities that you play with the kids. Whether you are singing songs, coaching sports, doing artwork or putting on a production of ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, the fun memories and new friends that you leave with will have made an impression on you that lasts a lifetime!
By Jon Arnold, Operations Manager (and former volunteer teacher) at Oyster Worldwide.