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Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Voluntary work abroad

Ever wanted to combine travelling with making a difference? Through volunteering abroad you could do both. Wherever your skills and experience lie and whatever your interests, there is likely to be a project suited to you.

You can benefit from volunteering

Volunteering can be anything from animal and environmental projects to helping rebuild communities that have been destroyed by an earthquake. Giving even a few weeks of your time will bring real benefits to the area and the people that live there. Through volunteering in another country you can also broaden your horizons, learn about a different culture and make new friends.

Volunteers come from all walks of life including homeworkers, students during a gap year, teachers, engineers, health workers, scientists and government officers.

International experience, in the workplace or as a volunteer, also adds another interesting dimension to your CV. This addition to your CV can make your job or promotion application stand out.

Volunteering opportunities on offer

take time to find a project that suits you

Organisations like the British Council, Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) and charities with international units can help you make a decision about volunteering. The Year Out Group also has information on a range of volunteering opportunities. Some organisations, such as Gap Activity Projects, offer bursaries for applicants who would not otherwise be able to afford to take a year out.

The British Council's Connect Youth offers programmes ranging from group exchanges to individual voluntary service, designed to give young people an international experience.

The VSO is an international development charity, which tries to match people's skills and professional background to the need for volunteers across the world. The ages of its volunteers range from 17 to 75.

If there is a charity or voluntary organisation you would like to help, make contact to find if it needs any volunteers.

The first volunteering project you find is not necessarily going to be ideally suited to you. So keep looking until you discover something you would feel comfortable doing.

Talk to the organisers of the volunteer programme about any concerns you may have. Check what safety measures are in place, and what would happen if you had to return to the UK earlier than expected. You may find the project is not right for you - but keep looking.

Taking a career break from your job

If you are in paid employment, find out how taking a career break or secondment to volunteer abroad would affect you at work. This includes your work contract, health cover, pension and National Insurance contributions, as well as your continued service.

Some employers will have a policy to encourage their staff to take part in volunteering or see a community project they are sponsoring abroad. Others may consider counting your volunteering period as extended leave without pay or as a secondment. This could be helpful if you are considering volunteering abroad for a long period.

If you expect to return to your job at the end of your volunteering period then give your employer your contact details. You can also give the name of the organisation you are volunteering for in case they need to contact you urgently.

Before you go

Make sure you have the vaccinations you need for the country and check any travel safety advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

You will need a valid passport to cover the entire period you will be overseas. It is also worth finding out the contact details and location of the British Consul in the country where you will be working.

The organisation you will be working through may have travel and health insurance to cover you while you are abroad. Check what you are covered for and if you need to take out any additional policies.

While you are away, try and keep regular contact with the charity or organisation you are volunteering through. Make sure they know where to find you in case of an emergency. This will help you find out about any changes in the country that may affect your safety or health. If you are concerned about the situation in a country, keep in contact with the British consul in the area.

Wherever you choose to volunteer, enjoy the experience as it can be fun as well as rewarding.

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