Volunteering with the Father Ray Foundation in Thailand

This beautiful account of the volunteer experience of Niamh from Ireland was reprinted with permission from the Father Ray Foundation. The original post is available on their website. The Father Ray Foundation takes care of 850 orphaned, abused and disadvantaged children and students with disabilities in Thailand. Click here for more information about their volunteer program.

My Story:

I arrived at the Fr Ray Foundation in October 2009 intending to stay for six months, but pretty soon I realised that I would want to stay for longer, so those six months quickly turned into twelve, and even that’s not been long enough. During my time at the foundation I taught English at the [Redemptorist Vocational School for People with Disabilities], the [Father Ray Children’s Home] and the [Father Ray Day Center]. Not having taught English before this was quite a challenge, but everyone was really supportive and I can say it was probably the most enjoyable, and certainly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I also visited the [Pattaya Redemptorist School for the Blind] three afternoons a week, and on Saturdays spent time with the kids in either the [Father Ray Children’s Village] or the [Father Ray Outreach Work & Drop-In Center] (one of my favourite places!).

Niamh – Ireland

The bond you make with the students and children in the various projects is incredible, they are the most warm and wonderful people you could ever meet. Watching the students in the vocational school, and how they cope with the challenges they face every day is a humbling experience. They never complain and always to come class with a smile on their faces, ready to learn, it’s a privilege to teach these young people, but I also think I have learnt a lot from them as well .

Niamh – Ireland

Being a volunteer is also a lot of fun, nothing wakes you up first thing in the morning like singing “Fred the Moose” (a volunteer favourite) with 30 eager four year olds. The friendships you make with the other volunteers is also wonderful, it’s great to have such support around you.

Niamh – Ireland

So as I near the end of my stay at Fr Ray’s I can say the past year has been the most amazing time of my life. The work the foundation does is so important, especially when you see first hand the difference they can make in someone’s life. I know I’ll miss the students and children when I go home but I’m already planning my return trip!

How Volunteering Overseas Changed My Life

Copyright © 2014 by Primary Key Technologies, Inc. and brought to you by YourVolunteers.

Tanzania flag on hand

Arden Jobling-Hey is a Freelance Writer based in Toronto, passionate about travel and exploring the world around her. Find her on Facebook and Twitter, or follow her adventures at thefriendlygiraffe.com.

Be the change you want to see

It’s been nearly a decade since I went to Tanzania. I applied on a whim to spend eight weeks promoting HIV/AIDS awareness in a remote village with a Toronto-based NGO called Youth Challenge International. I’m not sure what exactly made me sign up: the idea of traveling to an unfamiliar place, or believing that I could seriously make a difference in the lives of people overseas. “Be the change you want to see in the world”, is what I kept hearing, and this was my chance. I was an undergraduate student at the time, studying international development in between commitments as a varsity athlete. It was the summer after my second year of university and before I knew it, I was replacing my soccer cleats with flip flops and my school books with Swahili language guides. Off I was, bound for the African continent with a small group of people I’d never met and ready for anything. Hakuna Matata, right? It really does mean no worries – in case you were wondering.

Eyes wide open

The group of volunteers, including myself, first gathered in Toronto, where we underwent an orientation that included an introduction to culture shock. Despite all preparation, once we landed in Dar es Salaam,it took us all of two seconds to realize that we were completely out of our league. While we were in awe of the beautiful landscape, the predictable chaos of a bustling city and a culture that was just waiting to be explored, this was the first time that most of us had been exposed to such devastating levels of poverty, and it was heart wrenching.

We knew that HIV/AIDS was rampant, but we didn’t know that more visible diseases like polio and malnourishment would be waiting to greet us as soon as our feet hit the ground. Even the most
seasoned of travelers among us had to take a minute to get our heads wrapped around the reality that lay ahead. This was the first shock we encountered; only it wasn’t cultural at all.

Humble encounters

Once we were settled in the village, approximately eight hours in from the coast, we began our work on the ground. Our job was to evaluate the job done by previous volunteers and lay out a plan moving forward. What we quickly came to learn took the shape of a double edged sword: on the one side, we realized that without sustainable follow-up, the peer to peer learning system set up by our predecessors was unable to continue and had more or less shut down soon after implementation; on the other hand, it became obvious that despite lack of resources or support from funding organizations, groups of individuals were resolute on carrying on spreading the word about HIV/AIDs prevention and ridding their villages of stigma that isolate people who fall victim to the disease. The creativity and determination showed by various groups and leaders within their own communities was inspiring, and reminded us how little one needs to ignite the fires of change.

Lessons learnt

For eight weeks, we encountered boys, girls, men and women who had formidable obstacles to overcome. From having to walk hours to attend school and gather water, to having lost entire families to preventable diseases, the reality for most people was harsh, yet their spirits remained high. Back home, people grumbled over wait times for health care that is provided by the government. In Mvumi, labouring women gave birth alone on cold metal countertops without painkillers; the contrast was staggering. It became shamefully apparent that in a place where people have so little, generosity is far more abundant that in the streets of Canada, where there is seemingly resource to spare. Before leaving Canada, it was unthinkable to imagine we’d learn so many lessons over the course of just eight weeks, but without even knowing it, we had. Lessons of humility, gratitude and the importance of the community over the need of the individual were among the biggest lessons I would take with me upon my return, but the things I learned from my trip to Tanzania extended far past the project itself.

It was in Tanzania that I discovered that both volunteering and travel would always be a huge part of my life. Following my trip, I completed an M.A in International Communications and Development and have worked with a number of NGOs in a communications capacity. More importantly, I feel the constant pull to give back to my community and have volunteered locally at soup kitchens, community events and as a literacy tutor in Toronto. The connections I made with my fellow volunteers also lasted a lot longer than I may have anticipated. Following our time in the village, we proceeded to summit Kilimanjaro and explore the African Serengeti. Ten years down the road, four babies and three weddings later, I’m still in touch with most of the people I traveled with. There’s something about sharing a life-changing experience that connects you in a way that is virtually unbreakable; it’s a bond, and a memory, that lasts a lifetime.

Image courtesy of domdeen / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The All New YourVolunteers!

We are thrilled to announce that for 2014, the tenth anniversary of our system, we have released an all new version of YourVolunteers! The new cloud-based system, which is still free, incorporates many of the features requested by our users over the years. While there are too many changes to list, here are just a few:

  • Assign any volunteer to a shift and not just those who have indicated availability. We still try to prevent scheduling conflicts.
  • Group your volunteers and limit shifts to particular groups
  • Tracking for all accounts so that you can record when a volunteer actually worked their shift.
  • Mobile-first design so that it will work better on your tablet or mobile phone
  • We combined the best features of the Ongoing Needs and Special Events account types into a unified system.

This new release is just the beginning of much more to come. We worked tirelessly over the past year to lay a new foundation that utilizes the power of the cloud so that our system can continue to evolve while still accommodating our growing user base. Because of these changes, we are also able to offer a lower price should you want to remove the ads or if you should want the additional features of the Premium account type.

More information is available on our website at http://yourvolunteers.com.

YourVolunteers Dashboard

The Importance of Genuine Connections

A lot of us volunteer because of the fact that it allows us to make connections with the people that we serve and with the other, like minded volunteers. Without a doubt, one of the best websites on the Internet is Tiny Buddha and we frequently read its posts for daily inspiration. Today, I came across the video below on the site where the founder, Lori Deschene, gave a talk a little while back at the Wanderlust Festival about the importance of meaningful and genuine connections. Her talk is truly outstanding.



Orienting Volunteers – Why Bother?

orientation

This well written article by Megan Welch about the importance of orienting volunteers is reprinted with permission from the Maine Commission for Community Service. The original article is available on the VolunteerMaine website at www.VolunteerMaine.org.

I used to volunteer early on Wednesday mornings at a soup kitchen on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. I loved the high energy, vibrant conversation and constant flow of coffee that kept everyone moving in the tightly packed dining room. I felt right at home doling out soup and pouring coffee as fast as the old Bunn machine could make it. However, things didn’t start out so comfortably.

On my first day at the soup kitchen I was with a small group of other students from the university I attended. The site tour was minimal – “bathroom’s there, sink is there, brooms are over there, soup’s on the stove, doors open in ten minutes”. We didn’t really review any safety precautions and we weren’t given very formal instructions – “half of you out front serving coffee and soup, other half go clear plates and wash the dishes”. And with that, the doors opened and the seats were full.

My experience of making a difference for hungry New Yorkers at the soup kitchen was dimmed a bit by just how tough it was to get acclimated and fit in there. Volunteers are an immeasurable resource – they donate their time and multiply an organization’s efforts. In return for their service, volunteers deserve to be in the know, and will perform better if they are given a proper orientation to the organization that they serve and training pertinent to the tasks they complete.

As an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving to enhance volunteer engagement at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), I am now on the other side of the volunteer relationship. I work closely with staff across the state to engage a large number of volunteers in a variety of service areas. Recently, I took on the project of developing a volunteer orientation to standardize the volunteer intake experience within Catholic Charities. As an AmeriCorps*VISTA, it is my task to build CCM’s capacity to engage and retain volunteers in a sustainable volunteer program.

Providing orientation and training for volunteers is important for the following reasons:

  • Orientation provides background information on an organization’s history, mission and structure. The better your volunteers understand what you do, the better they can help you to work towards it!
  • It serves as a review of the basics – who your clients are, what services are provided, how requests are handled etc. Learning this information will help your volunteers to feel more confident when they start their service. And you’ll feel more confident in your volunteers!
  • It’s an opportunity to cover all your bases. Most non-profits are held responsible by accrediting bodies and funding sources, and organizations that provide social services are also responsible for meeting certain licensing standards. Volunteer orientation is an opportunity to formally review direct client service information that you may be required to go over with volunteers.
  • It creates a formal beginning to a volunteer’s term of service. Orientation serves as an opportune time to give a site tour, introduce the volunteer(s) to key staff and sign any kind of agreement forms that are necessary for your program.

Developing a comprehensive volunteer orientation program can benefit your volunteers and your program. Orientation serves as an accompaniment to volunteer training and is a tool that officially welcomes new volunteers aboard and allows them to take a stake in the work that your organization does. Volunteers who receive orientation will feel confident in their work and included by the organization they serve. Fostering this positive relationship with your volunteers will be beneficial in the long run, as well as helping with volunteer retention in the short term. Look for more information next week on the process of developing a volunteer orientation to suit your program’s needs.

Megan Welch is a native of Fairfield, CT and graduated from Fordham University with a degree in History and Theology in 2011. After Fordham, Megan spent a year serving with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in San Jose, CA. Megan is currently serving as the AmeriCorps*VISTA member at Catholic Charities Maine (CCM), based in Portland with the Maine VISTA Project. At CCM, Megan’s focus is on capacity building and volunteer engagement. Megan is profiling her service as part of AmeriCorps Week 2013.

Photo courtesy of Phil Sexton on Flickr. The use of this photo is not to be interpreted as an endorsement of YourVolunteers, Primary Key Technologies, Inc., or this blog or by the photographer or vice versa.

Working and Volunteering in Kenya on your Gap Year

kenyaThis informative article about volunteering in Kenya is reprinted with permission from the author, Adam, of Graduates.co.uk. The original blog post is available on the website of Graduates.co.uk and is available here.

For those outside of the United Kingdom who are unaware of what a Gap Year is, you can read the Wikipedia article here.

Kenya offers Gap Year travellers the possibility of seeing some of the most exciting wildlife on the planet. From mountains to deserts, coral reefs to pearl white beaches, Kenya is a breathtakingly, beautiful country which will stay in your heart and memory long after you’ve said your last goodbye.

Volunteering and working in Kenya is without doubt the best way of really immersing yourself in Kenyan culture and discovering a lively, welcoming country, where you will instantly be welcomed as family. There are a number of operations based in Kenya who are really promoting positive messages and engaging with local communities to improve conditions for local people. These range from fighting HIV/AIDS to helping build schools and improve education. Poverty, lack of education and poor healthcare are some of the most devastating problems here, however, with your help and commitment you can really make a difference to peoples lives. The rewards you reap will be priceless and will give you loads of skills which you can use in your future job back home.

HIV/AIDS Education

There are a number of programs in Kenya which will allow you to volunteer to educate children about the dangers of HIV. Millions of people have died from HIV in the past decade and it is estimated that up to 700 people die every day in Kenya from HIV/AIDS. According to the WHO (World Health Organization) 10% of pregnant women living in rural Kenya have AIDS. Statistics like this really set the alarm bells ringing and should be a wakeup call for people to help locals protect themselves from the dangers of AIDS. In order to volunteer as an HIV/AIDS educator you’ll need to undergo an AIDS instruction course which you’ll be able to do through your local Red Cross. Search online for programs which offer the course and you’ll be able to contact the necessary programs which will provide you with more information on how you can volunteer.

Teaching English in Kenya

There are dozens of opportunities to volunteer at schools in Kenya and really help children. Alongside teaching English, you’ll also be able to give lessons on British culture and really integrate and immerse yourself in the local community and culture. Your efforts and work will always be greeted with joy and mirth from the Kenyan people, who will truly treasure your hard work, not to mention the fact that you will be learning too at the same time. Volunteering is always a two way street, a cultural exchange, that gives you new skills and teaches you more about yourself and the country you are in. Teaching English in Kenya is an amazing way to really get involved with community projects and build lifelong friendships with people who really have very little materially, but a great deal spiritually.

Volunteer with Building Schools/Hospitals

If there’s one thing Kenya is short of, it’s schools and hospitals. With many people still living in rural areas where it can be hard to get too, these people are in dire need of help, and you can really give them a helping hand by volunteering to build whatever their community needs. You might find a tribe needs a school or even a shelter and your hard work and time will be an amazing asset to helping people who’ve only known extreme poverty. There is a huge sense of fulfilment to be derived from helping build things that will help people now and in years to come, not to mention the incredible cultural exchanges and experiences you can enjoy when you are out here.

 

Image courtesy of africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ditch Those Destination Jitters!

volunteer hands togetherThis wonderful article about volunteering abroad is reprinted with permission from the author, Elena Weaver. The original blog post is available on the website of Volunteer Global and is available here.

You have arrived at your volunteer destination. Your heart is beating 100 miles an hour. You’re double-checking that you haven’t left anything behind on the bus, train or car. Maybe your hands are sweaty. Those butterflies in your stomach must be doing somersaults in double time. Don’t worry!

These symptoms that you are experiencing actually have a label: excitement!

Here are some tips to calm those ‘butterflies’ and help you to get settled.

Remember: You are here to learn as well as help.

1. Your volunteering experience will be far richer if you forge relationships with the people you are around – and this applies whether the program lasts for one week or 20 weeks. Fellow volunteers, locals and your hosts are all part of your temporary community now.

2. Head to a local football game or another community activity to see what people care about in their culture. Can you play a musical instrument? If it’s small enough, like an ocarina or recorder, take it with you. Joining in music, singing and dancing is a sure-fire way to break down barriers.

3. Immerse yourself in the local language; a few words will get you a long way. It’s showing an adopted community you care about learning about and integrating with their culture, as opposed to simply visiting and tourist-gawking as you walk by. There is no guarantee that you will become fluent in the language but the most effective way to learn is to speak it in day-to-day life. It’s much more rewarding than classroom based learning.

4. Never, ever, be afraid to ask questions about things you don’t understand. After all, knowledge is power!

5. If you feel ‘awkward’ about asking questions or seeking help and advice, always ask with a smile, a laugh or make a joke about your lack of memory/limitations.

6. Keep an open mind and reserve judgement of different cultural practices. You might have to bite your tongue sometimes.

7. It’s likely that many of your own cultural assumptions – from books or stories in the media or simply that you’ve heard – will be challenged. We’re back to that learning and growing aspect; be willing to accept other ways of doing things.

8. Are you staying with a host family? Communicate with them! Learn from them. Get them to show you how to do things! Show them some pictures of your home town or family, activities and sports that you and your friends and family enjoy to start a conversation.

9. Be flexible; this is one of the most important characteristics of a volunteer. Broaden your horizons and you will be maximizing your experience.

10. And the most important tip? Have fun! Remember, when you’re open and excited to experience new cultures, food and ideas, that energy is as apparent and contagious as the smile you’ll be sharing at the same time.

Do you have any additional tips you would like to share? Click here to go to the original blog post to comment.

Image courtesy of chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s Tax Time (in the US) – Don’t Forget Your Deductions for Volunteering

tax return imageCopyright © 2013 by Primary Key Technologies, Inc. and brought to you by YourVolunteers.

Disclaimer: please consult a certified tax professional before taking any deduction. We are not responsible if you get audited, okay?

Hopefully, sometime in the future before the drones rise up and take over, the IRS will recognize the contributions of volunteers and will allow you to deduct the time that you spend helping others. While that time is not yet here, the IRS does allow you to deduct some of your expenses related to volunteering.

Mileage and Car Expenses

If you are volunteering with a genuine nonprofit organization, according to the IRS, “you can deduct the costs of gas and oil that are directly related to getting to and from the place where you volunteer. If you do not want to figure your actual costs, you can deduct 14 cents for each mile.” Either way, you can also deduct any tolls or parking fees. Keep VERY good records of all of this information and hopefully the non-profit organization has a very good volunteer tracking program in place as well.

Uniforms

If, for whatever reason, you are required to purchase a uniform for volunteering and if you wouldn’t normally be seen out in public in the thing, you can apparently deduct the cost and upkeep of the uniform. Candy stripers, are you listening?

Travel

If you attend a convention or meeting for a nonprofit where you have to travel, your unreimbursed expenses are deductible. There are a couple of caveats, however. First, you have to be an official representative of the organization and it would be best to have something in writing saying that you attended the event as such in the event of an audit. Also, the IRS states that you can take this deduction “only if there is no significant element of personal pleasure, recreation, or vacation in the travel.” So don’t have any fun. Be boring. Only choose conventions in ugly places. Tweet about how you are so bored because there is no significant element of personal pleasure in the trip.

Of course, they tell you that you can have a little fun. “The deduction for travel expenses will not be denied simply because you enjoy providing services to the charitable organization. Even if you enjoy the trip, you can take a charitable contribution deduction for your travel expenses if you are on duty in a genuine and substantial sense throughout the trip.”

Don’t Take Our Word For It

Seriously, don’t. Read Publication 526 – 2012 from the IRS. The link will take you directly to the section entitled, “Out-of-Pocket Expenses in Giving Services.” If you keep reading past the section, you can also learn about how whaling captains (not the kind who take you out to take pretty pictures) can deduct all sorts of things like harpoon sharpening services.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane / FreeDigitalPhotos.net