After taking on the mighty mission of googling “volunteer abroad”, I was a little taken aback, and realized this was still a world I was unsure of navigating. The question of what you want to do this summer is the best place to start. Do you want a job, internship or volunteer position? Does paid or unpaid matter? Are you willing to look outside of your hometown or Toronto? Where do you want to go, and more importantly why do you want to volunteer? As Abdullah mentioned last week, there’s a lot to keep in mind when it comes to volunteerism, especially if it’s going to be an international placement.
Once you get past these questions, narrowing down the search is a lot easier, but the process can still be really tedious.
The Centre for International Experience and the Career Centre both offer a variety of information of where to get started (or apply). The Canadian Heritage site had many work, volunteer and intern links as well.
I found that asking around really helped, especially from people who’ve personally gone on the kind of trips or jobs you’re looking for, even the community crew had tons of links for me from friends of friends. And so, I’ve provided a few of my findings below to anyone who may be looking into their own international summer volunteer options!
Students for Development
Although it isn’t quite a volunteer opportunity, I had to mention Students for Development. Through our very own university, you can get an internship opportunity with an NGO and a U of T credit through Students for Development. Partners include the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in South Africa, PRAESA (South Africa) and DECF in Kenya. There are also special places reserved for students from St. Michael’s College, Trinity College or Victoria College, and the deadline is March 1. Although it is an internship, being able to intern abroad through the university seems like nothing short of a wonderful opportunity.
Another U of T project that offers volunteering abroad is D.R.E.A.M.S (Dominican Republic Education and Medical Support) which aims to offer support to a local region in the Dominican. I know a couple of friends who are currently running this year’s project and from what they’ve told me, it’s definitely a change-your-life kind of trip. It’s also a great chance to work alongside other U of T students for an alternative reading week and if you don’t particularly want to travel, but do want to help out, you can be a part of their executive council which offers an array of positions!
Operation Groundswell was suggested by Community Crew member Crystal, who explained that the organization had more of a backpacking-, and less of staying-at -the-Hilton-for-a-week vibe. Not only do they offer summer opportunities, but they also offer alternative reading weeks, a great backup if you find yourself needing to take summer classes or a job for your four months.
Operation Groundswell’s costs were also very low (in comparison to a lot of the other organizations I had come across) and they base a lot of this on the premise that students should be able to experience the opportunity, and not have to worry about a huge payment in doing so. What sets Operation Groundswell apart is the amount of backpacking and local experience that’s offered, which they like to call their “backpacktivist manifesto”, something a lot of organizations that offer the volunteer/tour opportunities don’t always provide.
Students Without Borders
My co-host Leah Getchell from Beyond the Classroom suggested both Students Without Borders and Uniterra to me, from her involvement with WUSC. It offers experiences to volunteer abroad to Canadian students, and offer a number of placements ranging from Africa, Asia and Latin America. WUSC is the World University Service of Canada and CECI, the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation offer a number of opportunities as well. Also, as a partner of WUSC, it definitely is student-friendly. What I really liked about this organization amongst my google frenzy/32 tabs open kind of research was its emphasis on a needs driven approach, and how you’d get involved with a local organization in the region you’re in.
Also a program with WUSC-CECI, similar to Students Without Borders, Uniterra offers volunteering opportunities in a variety of places around the world, including Canada. I find the option to work with an international group in your country of residence is a refreshing opportunity that is often a forgotten choice. Volunteering abroad can get costly, and if after some research you realize volunteer-travelling isn’t for you, this is definitely a great alternative. As a joint WUSC-CECI, Uniterra focuses on focuses on five core issues of equality, economic development, health and aid, education and governance, giving you plenty to choose from.
Overall, figuring out what you want to do for your summer is never easy. Whether it’s coming to grips with the options you have (or may not have, as I realize my own breadth requirement has yet to be completed….woops) definitely get started now. Many places have already filled up with applications or will be very soon!
What are some organizations you’ve heard of?