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Trinity Testimonials from Volunteering Abroad

Danny McGrath is a Business, Economics and Social Studies student who volunteered in Tanzania for a summer with The Volunteer Projects after meeting the organisation at the Trinity Volunteer Fair. Read about Danny’s experience here.

Grace Duffy is a mechanical engineering student who has volunteered with Camara in Tanzania and in Uganda and continues to volunteer in the Camara workshop in Dublin. Read about Grace's experience here.

Owen Sheehy is a Psychology student who spent ten weeks volunteering with SUAS in in Kolkata (Calcutta). Read about Owen's experience here.

As a Medicine student, Oliver Welfare spent summer a summer in Kolkata working and learning with MOVE (Medical Overseas Voluntary Electives) in the Premananda Memorial Leprosy Hospital ). Read about Oliver's experience here.

Dental Science student Fathima Patel undertook a DOVE (Dental Overseas Voluntary Elective) experience in Cambodia with One2one Charitable Trust. Read about Fathima's experience here.

Madame Florence, Emer Savage, Standard 8 Class, Maweni Primary School, Kenya, Suas Volunteer Programme 2009 (Custom)
Above: Volunteer Emer Savage with Madam Florence Mwamuye's class in Maweni Primary School in Mombasa.

Danny McGrath's The Volunteer Projects (TVP) experience

Danny McGrath is a Business, Economics and Social Studies student who volunteered in Tanzania for a summer with The Volunteer Projects after meeting the organisation at the Trinity Volunteer Fair. He recommends that if you’re thinking about volunteering abroad you should get advice from those that have gone before you. Learn more about TVP at http://www.thevolunteerprojects.com/.

Image of Danny Driving in the SerengetiWhy did you decide to volunteer with TVP?

"In the last few years I’ve been involved with a group that travels to Lourdes each summer. This gave me experience in volunteering abroad. I’ve always had an ambition to travel to Africa, and having realised that volunteering was something I enjoyed doing, I decided I wanted to travel to Africa as a volunteer worker.

After researching a number of organisations running volunteer projects across Asia and Africa, I decided on TVP having stumbled across their stand at the TCD Volunteer Fair. Some of the reasons I chose TVP are the low costs they charge, their stance on development and how friendly and well organised the people in the organisation were. A number of organisations charge massive amounts of money even before you’ve booked flights, paid for vaccinations, and covered living costs. TVP aim to keep costs down, ensuring that almost everyone who wants to volunteer abroad is able to do so.  TVP are a relatively new organisation, and there is a fantastic buzz around the development work they are involved in across Tanzania and Cambodia."

How did you go about applying/organising everything?

"I had to submit an application to the guys at TVP. This involved giving some background information about myself, outlining any previous volunteer experience, putting forward why I thought I would make a good volunteer for TVP’s work in Tanzania, and listing my preferred project area from the list of projects that TVP are involved in.

After hearing from TVP that my application was successful, I paid a deposit to TVP and set about organising else that comes with volunteering abroad. This included flights, a number of vaccinations and malaria tablets, travel equipment, local currency and US Dollars, visas, passports, and time off work! TVP were great in this respect, providing advice on all aspects of the trip over to Tanzania, as well as confirming that I would be collected from the airport by the in-country manager when I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport – a massive luxury after 36 hours of travel!

Before travelling to Tanzania, I had to attend a group meeting with TVP in their offices. In this meeting, TVP representatives went through everything I needed to know about Tanzania, introduced me to some other volunteers I would be working with, the project I would be working on, and how the volunteer house was run."

What were the highlights of the experience for you?

"The trip I made to Tanzania was undoubtedly the best experience of my life so far. There are too many highlights to try and list, so these are just a subset; I worked on teaching and construction projects over the course of my time there, and the people I met in these schools and orphanages were incredible. Living in a volunteer house with people from all over the world is also a great experience, and I now have connections all over the world, including Australia, Canada, Spain and Denmark. During the weekends off I went walking through the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro with the other volunteers, I went on a safari across the Ngorongoro Crater, and sampled some of the nightlife with the locals! The experience was made only more authentic by the cold showers, eating in the dark, and the interesting porridge, maize and rice served in the schools!"

What was the toughest part of your experience?

"The part about Tanzania that I found hardest to comprehend was the level of poverty of some of the people that I met. Some of the children in the schools TVP work in only get one bowl of porridge a day. TVP has done tremendous work to try and change this and have recently fundraised for and built a kitchen for one of the local schools. The second thing I found tough about volunteering in Tanzania was how much work TVP and their partners had to put in to ensure that corruption had no place in their dealings with the local people and to ensure that all of the money they raise goes directly towards the projects being supported by the organisation."

Has your perspective on things here at home changed?

"It’s close to impossible to feel the same about issues here at home having spent time in Tanzania. Even months later, I’m remembering little things about my trip and applying them to situations that arise here. Ask anyone who has taken a trip like this and they’ll admit to a new found appreciation for all of the features of living in a country like Ireland, and at the same time they’ll admit to dissatisfaction at how much emphasis we place on our unnecessary luxuries such as our laptops and phones. The experience I had in Tanzania has shown me that I want to complete further volunteer work in the coming years in international development."

What kind of advice would you have for students thinking about volunteering abroad?

"Look for advice off people who have travelled abroad before. They hold a wealth of experience, ranging from which organisation to travel with, flights, what to bring and what not to bring, and when the best time to go is. Research where your money goes, don’t let it go on administration costs before it can reach the project you’re working on. Figure out where you’ll have the biggest impact given the amount of time you plan on staying. Lastly, go to the Trinity Volunteer Fair. There are plenty of volunteer organisations showcasing their projects and it’s hard to find so many organisations in the one place at the one time."

For more about TVP and other organisations who have participated in the Trinity Volunteer Fair, visit our news section.

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Grace Duffy's Camara Experience

Grace Duffy is a mechanical engineering student who has volunteered with Camara in Tanzania and in Uganda and continues to volunteer in the Camara workshop in Dublin. On Thursdays she drops by after college for 2 or 3 hours as they're open late. Volunteers in Dublin repair, clean, package and prepare computers for shipment to Africa. Visit http://camara.org/ to find out more.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Camara?

"I've always wanted to do something along the lines of spending some time in Africa. A lot of it was for selfish reasons too I suppose seeing a new part of the world, discovering different ways of life, etc. I wanted a new experience but to also make it a worthwhile venture.

A friend that I met in college had spent time in Uganda working with Camara during the summer of 2007. That is where I first heard of the charity. It was always in the back of my mind. I had a look at the website one day and downloaded the application form, which I sent in soon after. I liked the Camara ethos, and also the fact that it was 4 weeks of work abroad. As a student, the money I do make during summer work is so important, so I didn't want to give that up completely!"

How did you go about applying/organising everything?

"I had to make a short presentation on an IT-related topic to some Camara staff and other potential volunteers like myself. I was nervous about it, but it turned out that it was all very relaxed and it was nice to meet some other people in the same boat as myself.

I had to spend a certain number of hours working down in the workshop on Thomas Street before I could go away, and I learned lots here and got to know a lot of people, which was great. We also had to spend a weekend doing a course from Comhlámh which was a nice way to spend more time with the people I would be going abroad with.

I have made a lot of new friends and we always have the craic! I like that volunteering at the workshop [in Dublin] is so casual. You can pop in anytime during the week to give a helping hand. Also, there's aboslutely no obligation to travel to Africa with Camara. If you would prefer your input to be closer to home, the workshop is always open and in need of extra hands."

What were the highlights of the experience for you?

"Working with Camara has given me some of the best experiences of my life so far! Not only the time abroad, but the time in the workshop. I enjoyed myself so much the first year that I ended up volunteering again the following summer, this time in Uganda. There are early mornings, strange food, cold showers, etc., but that's what adds to fun of the experience. I didn't realise how much I would enjoy teaching, but now I'm looking at applying for teacher training for next September."

What advice would you have for students thinking about volunteering abroad?

"I think if someone is even considering it, they should definitely go for it! I'm not very technical or IT-knowledgeable, I'm a very fussy eater and I sunburn badly. I wasn't sure it was for me...but I'd do it again if the chance came up! There are so many different organisations offering different opportunities that there is something to suit everyone. I've yet to meet someone who has regretted their time spent volunteering."

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Photograph of Owen at Trinity Front ArchOwen Sheehy's Suas Experience

Owen Sheehy is a Psychology student who spent ten weeks with SUAS in Kolkata (Calcutta)- 9 weeks volunteering in a community-based school or educational project as well as a week of workshops exploring development issues. For more about Suas, visit http://www.suas.ie/.

Why did you decide to volunteer with Suas Educational Development?

"I always knew that I wanted to experience working in a developing country, and I had enjoyed volunteering with children in Ireland, so I began looking for an opportunity that combined these interests. I wanted to find a placement that lasted longer than a few weeks and was also quite structured, so the ten-week Suas Volunteer Programme was a good fit for me."

How did you go about applying/organising everything?

" After submitting my application in December of my Second Year, I had both an individual and a group interview in January. This process was hugely beneficial for my interview skills, and was worth applying for that alone. I received my offer at the end of January and began to learn more about the NGO I would be volunteering with in India. From February to April, there was a comprehensive preparation phase. Balancing college work with organising fundraising events and preparing for the overseas placement was challenging but worthwhile, as I got the chance to get to know the team that I would be working with and what to expect from the placement."

What were the highlights of the experience for you?

"The highlight was definitely working with the children in the schools on a day-to-day basis. We mainly taught basic English and Maths, but also got the opportunity to develop extra-curricular activities, which the children really appreciated. We got the chance to provide the students with one-to-one attention, and it was hugely rewarding to see them progress over the ten weeks we spent working with them. I also enjoyed the fact that although we lived in the centre of Kolkata, most of the schools we were working in were based in rural villages about an hour outside the city, so we got to the experience living in a vibrant developing city as well as working within a small community."

What was the biggest challenge?

"The language barrier is initially quite daunting, especially when trying to establish a good working relationship with the teachers. We also learned about the struggles the children faced in their home lives, such as engaging in child labour, which was quite challenging to deal with on a personal level. I really didn’t expect to bond with the children as much as I did, and saying goodbye to them at the end of the placement was extremely tough."

Has your perspective on things here at home changed?

"One of the most valuable components of the Suas Volunteer Programme is Global Perspectives Week, which is a week during the placement dedicated to talks and workshops surrounding numerous Development issues. I felt that this gave me a strong framework to interpret my experiences, and has allowed me to think more critically about issues at home now."

What advice would you have for others thinking about volunteering abroad?

"Volunteering abroad is one of the most formative and rewarding things you can possibly do. However, it does require a lot of time and effort, so make sure you’re choosing the right opportunity for you. If you’re looking at different programmes, take the time to do some research and ask as many questions as you can. When you’ve found the opportunity that’s right for you, throw yourself into it and you won’t look back."

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Oliver Welfare's MOVE Experience

As a Medicine student, Oliver Welfare spent summer a summer in Kolkata working and learning with MOVE (Medical Overseas Voluntary Electives) in the Premananda Memorial Leprosy Hospital ). Over the past 30 years, Trinity medical students have worked with MOVE in developing countries all over the world including Samoa, Malawi. MOVE also raises money to buy equipment, supplies and medications for these hospitals in order to improve patient services. Find out more about MOVE on their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tcdmove.

Why did you decide to volunteer with MOVE?

H aving been there [in Kolkata] 3 years earlier ( travelling with friends on my GAP year) there was some feeling and buzz about the place that drew me back. For me, it was a matter of finding a suitable hospital in Kolkata.

How did you go about applying/organising everything?

I found out about the hospital, The Premananda Memorial Leprosy Hospital, on a list of Kolkata hospitals on the internet. It was run by an international, though originally Irish , charity called The Leprosy Mission or TLM. I emailed the hospital and the charity's Dublin off ice and heard back very soon . I met the director of the char ity in Ireland for an interview and he then sent an email of recommend ation to the Hospital Superintendent. After that, I was in direct contact with the hospital to organise the details of my placement. Meanwhile I had been using all means possible to fundraise with MOVE- from corporate sponsorship to table quiz zes, bag packing and nights out etc.

How was the volunteer experience different to the tourist experience ?

I loved it then, [when visiting as a tourist,] but you cannot get the true feel of a place until you live and wor k there . As a tourist you stay around the backpacker haunts, follow the crowds and no matter how individual you feel you are being, there is always someone else who was listening in on that special advice or tip off you got from a friendly Bengali. When living in the city you get to know the people around you, not only those you are working with. I was working in an area called Maniktala which does not see many volunteers and so the locals made special efforts to chat to me and make me feel welcome. Also, learning a few phrases of Bengali so as to hold the most basic of conv ersations with the fruit-seller makes s hopping the next day a pleasure- h e may even throw a few plums in for free, without any regard to how hard you try to pay for them!

What were the highlights of the experience for you?

I would always leave the hospital quite drained, both physically and emotionally. Having said that, every day I would also see something that has changed someone's life forever. A patient might be able to leave the hospital and work again as she has h ad a new prosthetic leg fitted or the physiotherapists might have sufficiently mobilised a patient who has had their foot amputated so that the patient can get to the bathroom and not soil their bed. The smallest breakthroughs can be the most important for the patient as it gives then the confidence to proceed with their treatment. In my first few days, some of the inpatients were a little wary of me but by the end they greeted me li ke an old friend. S ome , in particular , would call me over and chat to me in broken English for a few minutes, just to ask me how I was liking the hospital?!

What was the toughest part of your experience?

One case particularly affected me. He was being treated for leprosy but was having a reaction to one of the drugs. This was causing him unbelievable pain in his ulnar nerves in his elbows; imagine hitting both your funny bones incredibly hard and having 5 times that pain 24 hours a day for 3 weeks. He could not sleep or eat, and he was crying silently all day. There were not enough advanced pain drugs to control it and he was coming close to death, a ll because of pain. He would deteriorate further every day. His wife stayed by his side to support him but would come to beg us to help him whenever she knew he wasn't looking so as not to hurt his pride. It was heartbrea king to watch him dying. Miraculously , I heard he was on the mend in an email a couple of weeks after I left, something which the doc tors could not have predicted!

Has your perspective on things here at home changed?

When there I vowed never to complain about the HSE or NHS again, as although not perfect, they give a decent service, and we don't know how lucky we are to have free or subsidised health care. (Just look at the struggles Obama has been going through!)

What advice would you have for students thinking about volunteering abroad?

It was one of the toughest experiences I have ever had, but also one of the best. I got to work with patients I would never come across at home and live in a different culture. It is such a special privilege that should never be passed up. It is not always easy to get in contact with the people in charge if you are organising yourself rather than through an organisation used to dealing with volunteers, the key is persistence. DO NOT GIVE UP. If you do, you will be missing one of the greatest experiences of your life.

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Fathima Patel's DOVE Experience

Dental Science student Fathima Patel undertook a DOVE (Dental Overseas Voluntary Elective) experience in Cambodia with One2one Charitable Trust, a non-profit organisation from New Zealand. The organisation was founded in 2009 by Dr Callum Durward, a specialist paediatric dentist and Dean of the Dental Faculty of the Cambodia International University with the aim of providing health and social care to some of the poorest and most neglected parts in a country where there is no free health care. In these areas, the average five year old has 8-10 decayed teeth, and teenagers in Phnom Penh have an average of 6 decayed permanent teeth. For more about One2one, see http://www.one2onecharitabletrust.org/.

Why did you decide to volunteer with DOVE?

"DOVE is a 4th year TCD dental student organisation that raises money to help dental students go abroad and do volunteer dental elective work.  We do this through various bake sales, nights out, quiz nights, balls etc. It is very much encouraged to participate in it, not just for the committee work but also to gain a sense of satisfaction and adventure of volunteering abroad and appreciate what we learn in dental school and how our skills can be used with limited resources to help those who do not have access to dental care. For me I love doing community work, volunteering and traveling so this opportunity was perfect for me."

How did you go about applying/organising everything?

There were a couple of countries I was thinking of traveling to and the previous 4th years had given presentations about their electives and the Cambodia experience really stood out for me. So four of us from the class decided to go there. Organising it was easy, literally we got the contact details from that presenting group and emailed Dr. Annie Chen who was in charge of it and everything worked out from there. The website is helpful as well and the company does not just do dental electives but medical, sports, teaching etc.

What kind of work were you doing?

"ALOT of dentistry! Extractions more than anything, fillings, fissure sealants etc. The first week was spent in a prison in Siem Reap, providing emergency care to some of the 1500 inmates. The second week, we travelled to Takeo and treated 500 children and 100 adults in a primary school located deep in the farms of this one street village."

Fathima at work in the prision in Siem Reap

How was the volunteer experience different to the tourist experience?

"Because even though the organisation is New Zealand based, in Cambodia it is run by Cambodians in order to empower them. So we literally lived in the shoes of the Cambodian people. We ate Cambodia food only (noodles and vegetables, sometimes fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!!), listened to Cambodian music(very very strange), watched alot of Cambodian tv (every restaurant has one!).

We were up by 6:30am most mornings and on the bus by 7:30am to go to the prison or the school we were working in. So in that sense we got to see and experience life of different groups of Cambodian people we wouldn't otherwise experience on a holiday. Since our group was made up of Cambodian dental students as well we socialised alot of with them (they were also the very few Cambodians who could speak English)- again something you wouldnt do as a tourist. We did do a few touristy things on our days off, like visit Ankgor Wat, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, go for Dr Fish massages etc."

What were the highlights of the experience for you?

"Other than the vast dental experience we gained, drinking coconut water straight from the coconut (they look like big green footballs) was definitely a memorable daily experience. Transport on the form of tuk-tuks-  a [near] lethal but crazy and enjoyable ride- the only way to get around! Also the feeling of satisfaction after you have put a patient through so much and they still smile at you before they leave even if language was a huge barrier made the experience so worthwhile."

What was the toughest part of your experience?

"The heat and humidity!!! By midday we were all dying especially when we didnt have aircons a round us but 1 fan per 2 people in an outdoor hall!!! The toliets...holes in the ground...literally! And no toilet paper..... Oh and dial up internet......"

Has your perspective on things here at home changed?

"It made me more confident in the clinics in the dental hospital, a greater appreciation for the home comforts like toast and cereal for breakfast, toilet paper, clean clothes all the time and the mod-cons of 21st century that we don't realise that we cant live or function without! Definitely have more of a dislike for the permanent winter weather as well......

A weird connection between Ireland and Cambodia would be how Cambodia is trying to overcome the effects of the Khmer Rouge by trying to rebuild the country and how the Cambodians are reacting to it and how Ireland is trying to endure the recession and how the Irish are reacting to it. I guess national disasters affect every country no matter how developed/under developed, stable/unstable it is.

So many exciting challenges faced me and influenced me [while abroad]. As a dental student, I have become more clinically confident and motivated and gained international experiences. As a person I have become more independent, open minded, more culturally sensitive and tolerant and able to adapt to new circumstances better. And with this, working life after graduation doesn’t seem so daunting."

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Last updated 24 May 2013 Civic Engagement (Email).