What does it mean to be International Volunteer?

Colombia, 1997. Professional in Public Administration. Her academic background is focused in humanistic and social compromise. She believes in formulate and manage collective actions to promote the human development. Interest area: Foreign issues and International cooperation for development.

Every year, Africa receives a huge number of international volunteers from different parts of the World, the majority of them is youth people that expect for the opportunity to help another ones who live in complex situations characterized by conditions such as poverty, social exclusion, sickness, violence, and so on. Ghana is not an exception of this tendency, perhaps this accounts for the numerous social projects carried out by some NGOs in Ghanaian territory.

One of such NGOs is the Universal Wonderful Street Academy (UWSA), a non-formal school that rescues and supports hundreds street children in Jamestown. That NGO hosts some international volunteers every year in Accra, like me. I worked there as volunteer during almost one year, learning week by week of every child. This experience gave me the opportunity to have practical first-hand experience in the voluntary work and, at the same time, live an outstanding global experience.

It is possible start defining “voluntary work” as the commitment of some people to build a better future for other ones. Voluntary work has three important players: community, NGO’s and volunteers. Community is the social context which receive volunteers to develop his/her work -Host communities-. NGO’s are the link between public institutions -state institutions- and community in order to satisfy social necessities through social contributions (i.e. voluntary work social projects, financial and administrative resources as social aid, legal representativeness and so on and so forth.).

Finally, international volunteer is the person who add value in the community with his/her ideas, creativity according to his/her academic background from the NGO’s platform. The efforts of voluntary work, require the convergence and participation of community, NGO’s and volunteers. In this convergence, volunteers share one portion of their lives working at NGO’s for the community with the intention to acquire social purposes. This expression of solidarity is a highest stage of social participation that demands strong citizenship.

The NGO’s intention to promote and create international volunteering programs is an effect of the idea that voluntary actions generate important transformations that transcend borders. For volunteers, living in different contexts, opens their minds through the diversity that offer each country enjoying the intercultural exchange. Naturally, those aspects enrich the experience of be volunteer abroad. In other words, for volunteers, the first positive return of his/her work, is a personal growth.

Analogically, international volunteer is like a window throughout community can see their lives and their future according to other customs, different languages, and alien viewpoints and so on. Even, the figure of the volunteer can affect so much the community life because volunteer work can be an important input in the construction of many life projects when children and youth population receive the volunteer intervention. The main objective of voluntary work should be to generate a positive impact in social scale with innovative social projects.

Furthermore, it is usual that voluntary work means assistance. Host communities suppose that they are receivers of volunteer help, so, the role of community is passive and in the other side, some of volunteers believe that their work is limited to accomplish their tasks. In this way, voluntary work should not be just an operative work and host communities should take an active role in the relation with NGOs and Volunteers. This aspect, social empowerment, is the guarantee of social projects success. The relation between NGOs, communities and volunteers is d a mutual exchange based in learning process.

Take the decision to have an active role globally is the first step on the road of be international volunteer. But, it is necessary to take in account that everybody cannot be volunteer. To be volunteer demands strong sacrifices that everybody can not to do or do not want to do. It is a fact that a lot of people express their worries and sadness for other human beings, but few of them decide to take an active role for change those realities.

My international experiences have connected me with the world giving me different perspectives to understand global context. Now, I am conscious that there are many things that link countries between them. This is the case of social problems, which had broken frontiers and are requiring transnational solutions.  Finally, it is possible to conclude that, international solidarity, expressed through voluntary work, make up a task of the whole society and also, imposes a new model o development which consists of joining forces to achieve objectives abroad. Individual effort of voluntary work is compensated in social transformations with global scope.

“Individual actions can generate enormous effects globally, when help people is the main purpose.”