Experiencing other cultures, languages and helping communities are just a few benefits you can have during a year of volunteering abroad. These experiences can help prepare you for a future job as well as help you feel a more powerful impact on your work area and on yourself than expected.
Munro Moffat spent the past year on a European Voluntary Service (EVS) placement with the Reykjavik Red Cross, in Iceland. In this post he offers some reflection on the work done during that year.
Like Munro, many young people aged between 18-30 and living in the UK can take part in volunteering opportunities, lasting from two weeks to 12 months, through EVS. If you feel inspired by his story, you can search the European Youth Portal's EVS database for opportunities.
Read Munro Moffat’s story
Volunteering changes your perception
Prior to my 12 month EVS placement with the Reykjavik Red Cross the words refugee or asylum seeker were ones I heard regularly on the news or saw on headlines. But now, standing in front of me, were real life refugees. But something was wrong. They didn’t ‘look’ like refugees. What exactly I thought a refugee looked like was something I had never given any thought, but this definitely wasn’t it. Perhaps the images of the skinniest child, the most tearful mother and the man dressed in rags used by the media in an attempt to create empathy between a numbed audience and those in crisis had warped my perception. It is of course not to say that people in these circumstances do not exist, but those standing in front of me looked, well, normal. Like the rest of us they hid their crisis behind a smile, like the rest of us they said they were fine when they weren’t and, like the rest of us, they strived for a normal life which most of us believe begins with looking normal.
You make the difference by volunteering
Being a volunteer presented a unique opportunity for me to make a difference in a way a paid member of staff could not. Limited resources means that it is not possible to get a paid member of staff to take the time to sand and varnish an old worn coffee table for one of the refugee’s houses, but having an on hand and willing volunteer meant that I could add those finishing touches to turn the would be houses into more of a would be homes for the refugees
In 2014 the UN resettlement programme relocated 73,000 of the estimated 60 million people who were forcibly displaced from their homes worldwide. 24 of those were resettled to an island 65° North in the Atlantic Ocean. Iceland. Waiting for them to arrive, was me.
You won’t feel lonely while abroad
Being a volunteer also allowed me to use my time to take refugees on day trips into the country side. As they struggled to integrate into this foreign land I could distract them from all that is unfamiliar by showing them Iceland at its best, with all its beautiful waterfalls and dramatic glaciers.
It boosts your confidence
I left Iceland confident that not only had I enjoyed a fantastic year, but that I had also made an impact in my area of work. In many ways my year of volunteering left me wiser and more knowledgeable. However, in other ways it has filled me with the naive notion that I can change the world, or at the very least leave it a better place than I found it. Perhaps if I knew more I would not believe in such nonsense, but then perhaps if I knew more I would never try, and wouldn’t that be a desperate reality.
If Munro Moffat’s story has left you feeling inspired find out more about how you could take part in EVS activities visit the Volunteer abroad page.