15 or 50: Why Age Is No Obstacle to Volunteering Abroad
Marc Crouch, founder of charity Naturally Africa Volunteers, is on a mission. A mission to inspire people of any age group to help those who need it.
For many years now I have noticed a rising trend. Volunteering in countries where I work, such as Malawi and Ghana, is becoming increasingly popular, but the age group most involved is getting younger and younger.
The reason behind this trend is that more and more schools are offering their students the chance to get out to places like Uganda at an earlier age, which creates a culture of volunteering in young people that makes them more likely to consider it as a gap year option.
What I mean by a culture of volunteering is that school children who go off to these countries learn profound and life-altering lessons, which solidifies the experience as something they want to do again. Add to this the fact they come back to the school raving about their time out there, it also provides the catalyst for those who did not go, but they wish had, instilling drive in them that sits in the back their mind until, years later, they finally make the trip.
This is not the only reason of-course, students are well known for having more free time and less money than the rest of us, as well as a yearning for adventure, all of which culminates in traveling to help those in poorer countries. This allows them to see the world, improve their employability and all for a cheaper price than a holiday to Crete.
The effect of volunteering abroad going mainstream, thanks to schools and gap year students, has been a blessing on third-world communities, and is something that I would never complain about. However, one thing that surprises me is the lack of mature volunteers heading for the African continent. Typically, those in the over fifty bracket are better off than most, have a more diverse set of skills, and might even be fortunate enough to have some free time on their hands thanks to an early or partial retirement. So why not get involved?
I have found that trepidation is the main issue. Volunteering is seen as a hard graft by many, some people aren’t as willing as they once were to get down and dirty and dig wells, cultivate lands and build houses. But it’s important to remember that those things can be part of the experience if the volunteer wants them to be, it’s up to the volunteer to decide what they want to bring to the table, not the coordinators.
So don’t let yourself be put off by the idea. Teaching children who need our help, reaching out and giving to their communities and even assisting medical professionals as they care for people are all volunteering roles that can be undertaken through charities such as Naturally Africa Volunteers. It might not be as physically requiring as constructing, but these sorts of jobs are demanding, because they need to be. Nobody is going to pretend this type of trip is as relaxing as a trip to Cancun, but it is an unmatched experience not soon forgotten, for both the volunteer and the recipient.
There is a reason for why volunteering in countries like Africa has become so popular, and that’s because the experience is truly life-changing. To witness the struggles these people go through, but to see the happiness during the good times, like the gratitude you receive from helping somebody who truly needs it, is just something that will change your perspective on, and appreciation of, your on life forever. Volunteering can be tough, it can be heartbreaking, but it can also be the most rewarding thing you will ever do. For me, to not have this experience at least once in your lifetime would be a sad thing. It has so much to offer both you and the people you help. However, it is important to remember that these countries also have rich cultural heritage, beautiful landscapes and exquisite examples of biodiversity. Visiting countries for volunteering purposes does not mean you cannot see what else these amazing nations have to offer. For example, Malawi is home to some incredible national parks, lakes and wildlife reserves. People often think of Kenya or South Africa when looking for a safari holiday, but you’ll find just as many spectacular animals, such elephants, rhinos and giraffes, in Malawi.
People of all ages have a desire to see and do more, don’t let the fact you aren’t a student anymore stop you. Take time out of work, ditch the holiday to America in favour of Malawi or use some of your retirement time to help those in need. The idea that volunteering is simply a young person’s game is ridiculous. With maturity comes attributes such as wisdom, patience and sensitivity, to name a few, all things of vital importance when out in third world communities. One thing I can promise you is this: you won’t regret it.
For more information visit www.volunteerafrica.com