Saturday January 20 saw Volonteurope and Volunteering Matters host the What Next? training, for volunteers returned from the global south, as part of the Erasmus+ funded Volunteering for the Future project. Based around the What Next? UK manual – which is a fantastic resource produced as part of this ongoing project – the training course helped returned volunteers think about how they could stay engaged after returning home.
Participants had taken part in volunteering experiences all over the world, many having done so in sub-Saharan Africa, India, South America and other parts of the Global South. It was great to gather together people who had volunteered in such a variety of places, demonstrating the wildly different experiences on offer for young people interested in donating their time to charity causes. We spent time at the beginning of the day talking about these different volunteering periods abroad, beginning to touch on what participants felt they had learnt from these experiences.
A key part of the training involved addressing some of the global issues relating to volunteering in the Global South abroad, especially when doing so in the global south. Most of the participants – especially the younger ones – admitted that they had thought little about the ethical implications of the volunteering they were doing prior to leaving. For some, consideration of the ethical implications of volunteering only came to the fore some time after their return. However, others began to think critically about their volunteering mission while they were still abroad.
We used the Global Issues section of the What Next? Training Resource for Working with Returned Volunteers (produced as part of the Erasmus+ funded Volunteering for the Future project consortium) to work through some of the issues brought up by the participants, and to highlight others not addressed. Several of the participants were very young when they went abroad volunteering; the whole experience was quite overwhelming – going abroad for an extended period of time, to a new ‘developing’ country, going to ‘help’ underprivileged people – and they initially had no time, nor the inclination to think about the ethical issues that might be apparent. This was particularly true for participants like David, who had taught in English in a school as an 18 year old. His only qualification for the role was his position as an English speaker from Western Europe. Unlike the Tanzanian teachers he worked alongside, he had no qualifications or teacher training, just his GCSEs and A-Levels. His elevated position in the community as a ‘school teacher’, affording him respect and privilege eventually made him quite uncomfortable. However, despite their varied experience, one thing all participants all agreed on was the enduring importance of volunteering itself, and its usefulness to society – but that important to look critically at the experiences on offer.
Certainly, their presence at the training was indicative of their enthusiasm for continuing engagement in volunteering; and their interest in becoming involved in projects in their own communities. The speed networking section of the training, as well as brainstorming allowed everyone to explore their ideas for local projects. The participants were able to bring their own experience abroad to bear on other people’s ideas for local projects – offering tips and advice to each, and helping projects take shape.
The afternoon portion of the training centred around encouraging the participants to think about how best to take the knowledge, drive and enthusiasm they felt when they first returned, and to channel that into a creating their own projects. These could be small scale projects that were aimed at helping a small sector of their local community, or projects that tapped into wider issues in society. There were lots of ideas flying around – from campaigning around environmental issues such as reducing use of plastic in supermarkets, to organising skills workshops for recently arrived refugees, and to mentoring young people in the community – which all benefited from group discussion and debate. Hopefully at least a few of them will come to fruition!
Importantly, most, if not all the participants felt that their volunteering experiences had helped them to decide their future path. For some this influenced their choice of university subject – David, who had volunteered in Tanzania, went on to study Swahili in his degree, Amanda, who had worked with sex workers in Kolkata in India, now wants to study human rights law at university. Sarah, who had volunteered with a film production social enterprise in Cape Town, was studying film as a result of her experiences.
As the session ended we talked about the opportunities available for future engagement, particularly the opportunities in the UK. We spoked about the Do It portal and the Volunteering Matters website, as well as the overseas opportunities offered by International Citizens Service and Raleigh International. Furthermore, we spoke about the volunteering services attached to universities and how useful they are for connecting students with volunteering opportunities during and outside term time.
We ended the session on a great note, with lots of continuing enthusiasm about staying engaged in volunteering in the UK. Also: if you have volunteered in the Global South previously, and you want to stay engaged, why not attend the Volunteering for the Future training course in Stuttgart in April? Click here to find out how to get involved!