Volunteer Work Overseas Can be Challenging and Life-Changing

Volunteer work overseas can be challenging and life-changing if you have the desire to be stretched and to reach out to others from a different culture.

If you are willing and able to live and work overseas,you may be one of those people who can make a difference in this world through learning, teaching, and building relationships cross-culturally.

Much of the work related to water, sanitation, and hygiene is done around the world by large government or non-profit organizations.

I am thinking of organizations like the United Nations, World Health Organization, UNICEF, World Hunger, Feed the Children, etc.

They are so big that they can undergo huge projects with big budgets and big objectives. They have lots of money for marketing, so they are really visible and well known.

You may have the heart and ambition to work with UNICEF or World Hunger. Those opportunities do indeed exist and can be an avenue for change. I do not think, however, that they have a large base of people doing volunteer work overseas.

Peace Corps, of course, is the exception. Many people volunteer and work overseas for years in challenging and fulfilling positions with Peace Corps.

I think that most of the people in the field with many of the big NGO's are paid staffers that go through an interview process and are working in paid positions.

If that is where you’re heart is and where you are headed, you will find your place if you keep going and do not quit!

I personally know several very passionate, committed, and talented people working in the international development sector.


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But there is another group of helpers and world-changers that are much more “grass roots” and represent a virtual army of committed and passionate individuals, who feel the call upon their lives to perform volunteer work overseas; to give of themselves in order to make a difference in someone else’s life.

My experience is that these folks can be found working or doing volunteer work overseas in smaller organizations (smaller NGO’s, non-profit organizations, Christian organizations, etc.).

There are many ways to hook up with these organizations. The general pattern for becoming involved seems to be:

1) contact an organization that you would be interested in working with,

2) see what kind of programs they offer, and find where you fit best in their program,

3) apply to be a volunteer,

4) undergo some kind of screening or interview,

5) upon acceptance, participate in any training or preparation they may offer,

6) raise funds and gather finances for an upcoming opportunity,

7) go, and do what you were called to do!

You may or may not have to go through all these steps in acquiring volunteer work overseas, but by and large, you have to seek out the organization and do your homework concerning which ones would be best for you.

There will be a selection process of some kind. You will need some kind of preparation, whether it is simply an informal orientation or more formal technical or cross-cultural training.

You will probably be raising your own funds for your experience.

Volunteer work overseas is about giving. It is about sacrifice. But it is also about enrichment and deep fulfillment when it is something you feel you were put on this earth to do.

Chances are that you would not get into this process and stick with it if you did not feel that sense of purpose and calling.


Volunteering locally is a simpler process, but no less valuable. Volunteer bureaus exist to help people find places and opportunities to give back to their community.

They can help you find people and places that NEED YOU. Many local organizations need help often and regularly.

Not everyone wants to do volunteer work overseas in Africa or Asia or Latin America. You can find a place to help and someone who needs you and the special gifts and talents you possess, right outside your door, in your own community.

We must always remember, however, that our purposes in going and helping, wherever it might be, are to be a blessing and a benefit to others and not just to enrich ourselves. It’s not really about me. It's about the need and about making a difference in the lives of others.

It’s not really about the thrills I get from travelling, working, or living in another country, or even about the wonderful relationships that I develop with the people that I meet, or the good feeling I get from giving of myself. All those things are all great.

They are real and awesome and they provide much of the motivation, thrill, and joy I get out of doing the hard work of sacrificing, laboring and volunteering.

Our focus in going must always be on those we have been sent to serve and to work with.

Their needs come before ours. If, at the last minute, it turns out that my help is not needed, that’s just the way it goes. If the project requires me to do things I never planned nor wanted to do, well, that's life.

In fact, that is often what happens on trips like this. Things rarely go as planned and flexibility and a sense of humor go a long way. After all, it’s about what they need and not about what I need.

So “going” requires that we keep our hearts and minds open to being givers and not just getters. No doubt, you will be blessed. You can’t go through an experience like that and not come out “changed”.


Whatever you do, be sure to do your homework!

Going abroad is not an endeavor to be taken lightly. You are placing your safety and security in the hands of those with whom you are traveling.

Thoroughly investigate and become familiar with any organization with whom you might like to volunteer.

Get to know the people who work for the organization and those that volunteer. Ask if it is possible to talk to former volunteers to get their perspective on their experience.

At the bottom of our "Get Involved" Page, you will find information concerning a few organizations which offer opportunities for volunteering overseas and for giving in other ways. We have tried to list only organizations with which we are familiar or know personally, and have a lot of confidence in.

I would shy away from the clearinghouses that supply lists of volunteer opportunities from many different organizations. You might get a good lead from them, but you never know until you fully investigate them yourself.

Any particular group or assignment may be just fine, but talk to people from the organization itself and take nothing for granted.

Bottom line, do your homework and know who you are dealing with. Be sure they are a well known and reputable group to whom you would trust your life overseas.

Keep in mind that opportunities for volunteer work overseas can fill up quickly and that some training might be required for some trips.

Opportunities exist and there is a place for someone just like you. Someone with the heart, the drive, the passion, and the skills to live and work with those in another culture.

You can be a world-changer! Do your homework. Get the training you need. Locate a reputable and effective organization with whom you can find your niche. Then GO! and live the life God meant for you!



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