by Yaryna Kobryn –
Making a decision to get involved in a certain voluntary project might be a huge step. But right after that the following question once you decide to set on a volunteering journey, how to choose the best project?
To start with, whether we like it or not, there is no such a concept as “the best project”. Not because the projects cannot be perfect (they can truly be) – but because what is considered the best project for one might be a true horror for the other. For instance, I feel excited moving from place to place every few days, and the project which would involve regular mobility would be the true blessing. For those who are rather attached to one place and prefer homely feeling instead of spending long hours on the way would be rather unpleasant experience. Different people have different preferences – busy big city life or remote natural areas, abundance of activities or sufficient free time for oneself, the diversity of tasks or the chance to focus on one responsibility…based on these multiple puzzles of diverging preferences, the concept of “perfect project” is constructed on.
Choosing a voluntary project – no matter whether it is a 2-week workcamp or a one-year EVS – is often a lottery. Why? There are far too many factors which cannot be predicted. Putting aside unexpected changes or project alterations, the project itself, even though described in the most extensive way by its organizers, is a total mystery for the volunteer, a zone of absolute unknown – and perhaps there is the greatest beauty of it – to push oneself into the unfamiliar, to open up to the new, to embrace the unpredicted. In the meanwhile, even though a lot can go not as expected, there are a few aspects which you can consider to make sure the project you choose would most probably suit you.
So what to pay attention to while choosing an EVS (or any other volunteering project)?
Project Description & Job Responsibilities
If you are not particularly fond of kids, choosing children summer camp, even though it is in the country of your dream, would not be the greatest idea.
Choose the project based on your interests as well as your skills and competencies. Consider in which way you can contribute the specific project with your skills. Try to visualize your everyday tasks there. Does what you will be supposed to do inspire you? Would it challenge you, help you develop and improve the skills you need? Will you be able to connect this experience with your future plans? Take into consideration each of the mentioned tasks since the priority of work might change – and you would not like to find yourself doing the job you are not interested in.
Location of the project matters, it surely does. However, what is important to consider is that looking for a project based on its location might lead you into the trap. You might be extra-excited to live and travel around France or Spain, but before agreeing to it, please make sure you have been not fallen victim to a mere country image and the stereotypes about it.
While looking at project offer, be mindful about the place – foremost, trying to understand which environment would be favorable for you. Do you easily get bored in a small city or rural area? Do you feel stressed and tired in the big cities? Would you like to live closer to nature or rather in urban surroundings? Is it important for you that a place where you live has a lot of sightseeing places? Cafes? Places for shopping? Nightclubs?
You can form the impression about the place by looking up photos, Youtube videos, or even asking someone local to share his/her experiences with you (however, be mindful – the impressions are solely personal and you might have another opinion on the place after all). As long as you visualize what kind of lifestyle your location represents, it would be much easier for you to understand whether t would be suitable for you or not.
Finally, do not make the country or location itself the reason to choose your project. You might find yourself in the most picturesque area somewhere in Italian or Swiss Alps, but, in the end, would it matter if your project is poorly organized and managed?
Many of those who look volunteering opportunities limit their search process with reading the description of the project and googling the pictures of the city. However, choosing the right organization of your project is perhaps the most difficult and important as it is what your experience will depend on. Therefore getting an insight about the organization that hosts a project is essential. But what to start from in your search?
Firstly, as you look up the main website of the NGO, try to set out it mission, key values and principles. Make sure you are willing to share the same values and agree on what the organization commits to since it will be most probably reflected in its culture and behavior of the workers. For instance, if the NGO you look up is pro-vegetarian and you can’t imagine giving up meat – perhaps you are not the greatest match.
Secondly, pay attention to how active organization is. Try to find the events they organize, find out how many people they involve, how big is their community or how wide is the field of work they do. Other important aspects to understand are whether they are open to new ideas, willing to help out and support if needed, flexible in terms of time or resources. Such info surely cannot be found on main website or even social media pages – however, it is not impossible to have it acquired. Look for the feedback provided by previous volunteers – maybe some of them left certain comments about their experience within organization. You may also try to find some contacts of the previous volunteer and get in touch with them asking directly some questions which bother you.
Try to look at certain aspects from different perspectives. For instance, working in a small NGO might turn out to be more beneficial to you than being a part of a big organizations: you may surely engage in the NGO somewhere in the centre of Brussels which host several volunteers every year and where you are simply one of the many – or you can join a small local organization instead where everyone would treat you as a special guest. The level of activity of NGO also not necessarily depends on your overall impression about it: you can either join an active NGO with loads of events….or create them on your own, develop new opportunities within organization…and eventually contribute much more to it than it would be done at any other place.
The last but not the least, keep your expectations ready to meet different realities. Remaining open to the experiences which are different than you expected might lead you to the prospects and discoveries you might not even have considered before.