Tips and Tricks for an Ethical Volunteer Abroad Experience
November 30, 2020
Nelson Santos found All Hands and Hearts while researching ways to volunteer and give back while traveling. He joined our Nepal Earthquake Relief Program in 2017.
In addition to his time with All Hands and Hearts in Nepal, Nelson has volunteered while traveling around the world, including: Colombia, Mexico, Myanmar, Puerto Rico, Malaysia, India and Thailand.
We had a virtual catch up with Nelson to learn more about what inspires him to lead a life of service and hear the ways he’s supporting others to do the same via his Facebook group, Volunteer Overseas for Free.
Siobhan MacRae, Alumni Relations Manager: What inspired you to begin on this path of service to others?
Nelson: I grew weary of working 60+ hours a week at a job I wasn’t happy in. I wanted to lead a more meaningful, purposeful life. I decided to take a leap of faith and live out my true passion: traveling the world while trying to positively impact the lives of others.
Siobhan: Your Facebook group Volunteers Overseas for Free has gathered a considerable amount of interest. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Nelson: It’s really grown! We’re just shy of 38,000 members. The group is dedicated to sharing free and ethical global volunteering opportunities that focus on social impact. It also serves as a discussion forum for members to seek advice and inspire each other.
This idea of inspiring people to find their own sense of purpose started back in 2013 when I founded Smiling Times as a positive news and media outlet. Initially, I just wanted to encourage people to smile more. It grew to be much more as I started blogging about things I was doing to support my community.
Volunteer Overseas for Free was created to offer support to people seeking to add meaning to their life and positively impact the lives of others. We’ve listed over 400 ethical volunteer programs across Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe and connected people who want to make a difference with organizations who need their help. I make a point of regularly recommending the many amazing organizations I’ve personally volunteered with, including All Hands and Hearts, to raise awareness of their volunteering opportunities.
Siobhan: What tips would you give someone looking to volunteer alongside communities while traveling?
Nelson: First, I’d advise them to take the time to volunteer within their community at home. There are often volunteer opportunities for a variety of causes in most regions, including housing insecurity, mental health and environmental impact.
Then, do some research. A volunteer position should be taken as seriously as a paid position; you should understand what’s being asked of you, make sure it’s right for you and, if you’re onboard, give it your best.
Organizations should be clear about what support, resources and opportunities for learning new skills will be available to help you get the most out of your volunteering experience. Be sure to reach out and clarify these points if they haven’t been outlined upfront.
You should also consider how the organization works with local partners and supports local communities. Ethical humanitarian work means working in a collaborative, sustainable way that empowers communities to build resilience.
Siobhan: Tell us about your volunteer experience with All Hands and Hearts.
Nelson: Aside from learning the ropes on a construction site, I think the most valuable experience with All Hands and Hearts is the opportunity to connect with incredible people from around the world, uniting for one cause. People who volunteer with All Hands and Hearts readily give up their home comforts and are committed to supporting communities recovering from natural disasters. Living and working in a disaster area has its challenging moments, but seeing the work progress every day gave me a huge sense of accomplishment and made it a unique experience compared to any other volunteer work I’ve done. I can’t recommend it enough!
Siobhan: What’s next on your horizon?
Nelson: I plan on returning to Tapachula, Mexico in a few months to continue my volunteering efforts at Mision Mexico. On the wider horizon, I plan on continuing to volunteer while growing Volunteer Overseas For Free in hopes of reaching more people who want to help make the world a better place.
At All Hands and Hearts, we work closely with community members and partners to respond effectively and efficiently to disasters, before transitioning to critical long-term rebuild projects. Through our unique volunteer model, we accelerate progress toward The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 4 (Quality Education), 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). Join us, during this Decade of Action, to build a better future for all.