It’s International Volunteer Day! In order to celebrate, I’m posting an article I wrote a while back for Youth Challenge International – it was with them that I received the opportunity to volunteer in Guyana, South America. I was there for three months in a village called St. Cuthbert’s Mission.
Growing up, we learned from our parents that there are certain things we must do in order to succeed in life; be a good citizen, get a good education, and attain a comfortable middle-class life.
Suddenly, political, economic, and social pundits alike started to bandy about terms like “Lost Generation” and “Basement Rats”. Traditionally stable jobs are now a dying breed and full-time work is giving way to part-time jobs, the numbers of which are also rapidly decreasing. Our university friends are working in places that have nothing to do with their degrees and some are resigned to work in retail and fast food industries. These days, it turns out that going to university isn’t a guarantee to escape flipping burgers. It is easy to see why some young people drift from one minimum wage job to another, or have become disillusioned. Some have even become the dreaded basement troll of many a baby boomer’s house.
Society’s usual answer to developing a career is to get more education. However, that may not always be the best choice. Consider this – an employer has two candidates from which to choose. One has a Masters’ degree but no work experience and the other just has a B.A. but has work experience. In today’s job market, where the primary concern is with cutting costs and streamlining budgets, which candidate do you think would be more attractive: the one who has academic credentials and high salary expectations to pay back those education loans, or the one with actual real life experience and generally lower monetary expectations?
Getting real experience in a depressed job market can be difficult and highly competitive. However, the solution may lie in thinking outside of the box. Why not volunteer with an international NGO?
There are two main reasons why you should consider volunteering: engagement and livelihood development. Not only would you work with young people in countries ranging from Guyana to Ghana teaching them to become involved and develop a livelihood, but the experience will also allow you to do the exact same for yourself. The goal here is for you to become the author of your own life, both personally and professionally, which is good for your overall well-being, enabling you to reject disenfranchisement and rootlessness. It allows you to participate in the complicated yet exciting world of which we are a part. It provides work experience that looks great on your resume especially when your other option is to have a gap with nothing to show for the passing time. And most importantly, it provides you with the opportunity to meet new people, create new links, and generate new possibilities – opportunities that you could not have anticipated while thumbing the Xbox or dodging burger grease splatter.
Even in a world that faces continued recession for the foreseeable future, it is up to you to secure your necessities of life, which is what livelihood development is all about. No matter the job, employers are always looking for people that have key skills. So, how do you secure the experience that demonstrates leadership, team player abilities, and problem solving skills when jobs are scarce? By volunteering.
While volunteering in Guyana, my work enabled me to develop and demonstrate a wide range of skills such as adaptability, flexibility, cultural integration, leadership, public speaking, writing, classroom management, teaching, problem solving, creativity, and understanding and participating in team dynamics.
Remember, employers want more than just your word that you have developed key work-related and life skills; you will need to demonstrate how you did so using pertinent examples from your life experiences. It is one thing to say that you are a flexible person but quite another to explain about your time in an Amerindian village teaching literature to high school students while managing a lack of supplies and a wide variety of learning disabilities.
So instead of being one of the lost generation, why not consider volunteering overseas? Include volunteering in your life plan and in so doing, you will become more involved in the world and people around you while developing the skills needed to make your pitch in a competitive domestic job market.
Question: What kind of volunteering experiences have you had?