Volunteering Abroad: Do You Only Get What You Give?
This summer, I undertook a volunteering placement in Senegal, West Africa, doing a care placement to help street children, called ‘Talibés’, in a volunteer centre. Talibés are young boys aged from as young as three to twenty-one years old, who have been sent into urban areas to go to school but are from such poor backgrounds that they must fend for themselves in groups; selling what they can to make money for their teachers or just to get something to eat. Even the boys I helped while volunteering sleep in abandoned houses – or nooks and crannies in more built up areas – in order to get a night’s sleep. Although the local community is aware of the boys’ situations, helping where they can with food, money and clothes, the immense health, safety and developmental risks for the children sleeping rough are still all too prevalent. Stephanie Uwalaka discusses her personal experience volunteering abroad, as well as the benefits of volunteering locally.
I chose to do my volunteering placement through Projects Abroad. I had wanted to go to Senegal for some time and thought this placement would allow me to work with children, to develop a variety of important skills (ranging from first aid training to teaching basic English and French), and to use my French in an environment well outside the confines of a university seminar room.
” Volunteering is not something you have to go abroad to do. Just because there are no photos in a sunny, faraway place, doesn’t mean that the value of the work cannot be the same”
To tell you a bit about Projects Abroad:
“Projects Abroad is the world’s leading international volunteering organisation, with headquarters in the UK and offices and projects in over 50 countries around the world. With our global reach, we offer the widest range of volunteer projects and locations, and our own dedicated staff are on hand 24/7 to make sure our volunteers make the most of their experience and leave a lasting, positive impact. […] Since 1992, we have sent volunteers to work in 38 countries and helped over 100,000 people make a lasting impact across the globe.”
Through the volunteering project, I got to meet and work with lovely locals and other students and young people from Italy, Belgium and France. Working as a team in the centre was highly necessary, because at times there were so many kids running and jumping around, you could feel a bit outnumbered without some support! It was also extremely interesting to get to work in a different climate, environment and culture – overall, a valuable experience indeed. But upon arriving I felt an immediate sense of being ‘back home’; the near-tropical humid air, coupled with the intense midday sun on my skin and the fleeting cool breezes of the evenings, reminded me of family holidays in Nigeria.
After only a couple of weeks volunteering, I had made strong bonds with some of the boys and it was incredibly difficult to say good bye, almost as much as it was to say bye to my fellow volunteers! Not only this, but leaving my host family – with whom I had now become almost part of the furniture, and who were wondering why I was leaving at all – left me pondering changing my flights just so I could stay.
But as summer neared its end, I returned home with my heart warmed from being able to help these children who at times have no-one to tell them to behave. To give them a hug. To blow their noses. To encourage them to draw and be creative. I am so grateful to have been even the slightest of help, and can only hope the charity and organisation from Projects Abroad can give consistent aid for more projects like this, and allow people who are willing to give their time and funds to go abroad and volunteer.
“Upon arriving I felt an immediate sense of being ‘back home’; the near-tropical humid air, coupled with the intense midday sun on my skin and the fleeting cool breezes of the evenings, reminded me of family holidays in Nigeria”
However, it is important to remember that volunteering is not something you have to go abroad to do. There are so many great causes here in the UK and Leeds in particular that require volunteers’ support; just because there are no photos in a sunny, faraway place, doesn’t mean that the value of the work cannot be the same. Change starts when and where we begin to help our neighbour, our friends, our communities, and open ourselves up to being able to volunteer our time, energy and resources to help those in need.Volunteering at home or even abroad may not be for everyone, or for the faint-hearted, but for those who have the will, drive and ability, why not?
For more information about Projects Abroad, visit:
For more information on volunteering placements at Leeds, visit:
[Images: Where There Be Dragons, Stephanie Uwalaka]