Volunteering abroad offers you a wonderful way to become an active part of the community in another country. Not only can you use your individual skill set to benefit the local community, but you will also gain insight and build relationships in a way that a tourist never could.
Trinity College is committed to promoting, encouraging and incentivizing greater local, national and international civic engagement by members of the College community. We value responsible, collaborative and sustainable engagements in international development which respect host cultures and communities, and respond to local needs. At the same time, meaningful international development volunteering and service-learning placements present significant educational experiences which encourage adaptability, ethical responsibility and global awareness among participants.
Trinity College encourages responsible civic engagement and global citizenship by members of staff and students. It is recommended that any person embarking on an international development placement abroad reads, signs and complies with the principles of the Comhlámh Volunteer Charter (PDF 5MB). In doing so, the participant agrees to the following:
- Reflect on motivations for and expectations of placement.
- Familiarise oneself with the role description and host organisation before departure. This includes being mindful of safeguarding the interests of any children or vulnerable adults with whom you might be working as part of your role.
- Respect local customs, cultural differences and sensitivities and adopt the role of learner and guest.
- Act always in a professional manner and be flexible and adaptable while on placement.
- Take due care of personal safety and physical and mental health (see below).
- Channel the experiences and knowledge gained while overseas into Irish society
Before committing to any placement, an individual should reflect on the following:
- Personal motivation, skills and interests
- Personal resilience, physical and mental health
- Whether the engagement empowers or encourages dependency in the community it is intended to serve
- Whether a volunteering organisation is not-for-profit
- How a volunteering organisation addresses the issues articulated in the Comhlámh Code of Good Practice (PDF 6MB).
- The economic, social and environmental costs involved as compared with anticipated benefit for all stakeholders. Consider also what fees cover and personal capacity and support available for fundraising.
Comhlámh have drawn up a Volunteer Charter which serves as a good practive guide for people going to volunteer in developing countries. It sets out seven principles that aim to encourage responsible, responsive international volunteering. Comhlámh also offer information sessions and personalised guidance for potential volunteers as well as debriefing and networking opportunities to returned volunteers.
Department of Foreign Affairs travel advice should be considered before committing to a placement. It is not recommended to travel to any region where the level of warning exceeds “exercise caution.”
It is the responsibility of the individual travelling to ensure he/she obtains the correct visa to enter their intended destination.
Appropriate travel, medical, and personal liability insurance should be obtained. Read the terms and conditions of any policy to ensure that the planned destination and activities, and possible health risks and needs are covered. If an individual chooses of their own volition to travel to an area of political unrest, they should take care that there are no insurance restrictions on related situations which might arise e.g. acts of war, terrorism or kidnap and ransom.
International development experiences can be both physically and psychologically demanding. Becoming ill while abroad can be particularly distressing for the individual, for his/her family, for others involved in the volunteer programme and for the host community. Before travelling, individuals should:
- Ensure he/she is physically and emotionally fit to participate.
- Obtain appropriate vaccinations
- Take medical advice on the need for anti-malarial medication
- Determine what health services are available in/near the host community
- Be mindful of risks associated with drug and alcohol use, sexual health, road traffic accidents etc.
Many people experience “reverse culture shock” and encounter difficulty settling back in to day-to-day life after a placement. Comhlámh has workshops and resources for returned development workers, volunteers and service-learners to support this transition. In some cases, it may be helpful to avail of counselling services in order to process either the transition home or elements of the experience abroad which may have been particularly challenging or traumatic. If your organisation does not offer a debriefing or you would still like to work more on the returning process, you could participate in one of Comhlámhs "Coming Home Weekends".
It is also important to remember that the placement is not something to be consumed by the individual participant-global citizenship does not end on the completion of a placement abroad. Not everyone is in a position to avail of such opportunities and it is worth considering how you might share your insights with your peers and perhaps a wider audience. Ongoing involvement with the organisation or issue with which you undertook your placement can occur at home through fundraising, advocacy, promotion and continued volunteering.
- If you are interested in spending some time volunteering in a developing country, you should take a look at Comhlámh's Volunteering Options website . Volunteering Options promotes informed decision making by volunteers and will take you through the process step by step. They have a variety of resources which help you assess your motivations and skills and find an opportunity which is appropriate for you.
- Volunteer Ireland and the local volunteer centres maintain a local volunteering opportunities database which can be accessed online at http://www.volunteer.ie.
- Travel advice by country is available at http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=386.
- HSE Travel Health Information and further links are available at