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Useful tips before you volunteer

    We love the enthusiasm and passion that our volunteers often arrive with when coming to volunteer for the first time.  Full of 'oomf' to help make a difference but with this enthusiasm, there can often be unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved.     In this article we hear from our Project Manager in St Lucia,  Alanna Wallas, on some great tips to prepare you before you come, to manage the emotions that often come with volunteering.   'Making some alterations in what it means to make a “difference” can make a big impact to volunteers expectations when volunteering.  They can feel like they’re part of a process of development that’s making a great impact on the communities in which they work. To do this volunteers must overcome the emotions surrounding the voluntourism process that can often start off feeling elated and with a 'save the world' attitude and which can lead to a sense of disappointment and helplessness when this is not met.     Upon their arrival, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, volunteers are eager to jump into projects with both feet. Whilst it is a great attitude to have, it’s a lack of preparedness that leads to the feeling of pessimism that follows. Often this is because volunteers arrive with a certain picture in their minds, only to have that picture altered when they land at their destination.    

 

    Once the rollercoaster of projects is introduced, some volunteers experience a feeling of discontent, perhaps feeling helpless or powerless against the development process. Many of the ups and downs that come with volunteering on the projects are based around the notion of making a difference, and what constitutes the measurement of a difference made.   When working with sustainable development, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa where life’s pace is very slow, making a difference can seem like it takes a lifetime. As a volunteer (and even a staff member) it is important to remember that with each day on projects comes a success. Every day means we are moving towards the achievement of our goals as volunteers, staff members and as an organisation.'     African Impact are here for the long haul... we build and create long term sustainable projects, this sometimes means you can't always see the good that is being done. Your time energy and effort when put with the bigger pictures creates a huge impact, last year we achieved the following:   In 2011 we facilitated 1951 volunteers to over 60 different projects across Africa. This is estimated at roughly 2,949,617 hours of work that volunteers were helping in communities, clinics, conservation projects as well as other specialised projects.   Across the 6 different African countries African Impact supported and refurbished 12 schools, providing safe and secure areas for the children. Educational assistance was supplied to 13 schools and 12 children centres - allowing us to help over 1300 children in education last year. Using education as a tool for empowerment African Impact has facilitated over 220 attendees to 10 different HIV education awareness programs with 84% success rate. Adults have been educated in over 19 different skills workshops.   Much needed support was provided to overburdened staff in 13 different hospitals and clinics across Africa and 2184 patients were visited at their homes and given basic medical care.   Two self sustaining prides of Lions (7 individuals) have passed through stage one of the programme, are now living in Stage Two release sites. 5 semi-wild Lion Cubs have been born within the release sites.     And this doesn't include a whole host of a smaller achievements.  Without the support help and love of our volunteers we would never have been able to do this. Afrian Impact would like to take this opportunity to thank all our past volunteers for all there amazing work in helping us achieve where we have got to today and we invite all potential volunteers to come and help us be part of the bigger picture!     If you’d like to make a difference during your short time as a volunteer, think about the following quick tips before embarking on your experience:   Do your research – Reading up on African Impact, the project you’ll be working at and the area you’re travelling to will all help you acclimatize easier once you’ve arrived on site, particularly if you’re volunteering for only two weeks.   Fundraise and bring needed materials – Often a project will send you a list of items that are needed to help the projects work, or can supply you with a project “wish list” upon your request. Sometimes it’s as simple as bringing lightweight art supplies (like cotton balls or pipe cleaners) or medical materials like bandages, which you can see being used while you’re out on projects.   Arrive with personal goals in mind Think of your skills at home and build some expectations around what you would like to achieve personally. From there, learn all you can about how you can use your skills to positively influence the project as a volunteer. If you’re a photographer, offer your photographs to be used as promotional materials; if you enjoy writing, maintain a blog for the official page or if you possess a green thumb, offer your services more often during farming and gardening projects.   Talk to everyone – Speak to the coordinators and managers of the project you’re on about what their upcoming goals are. Usually they’ll have a task for you to take on or an initiative you can start. Expect a mixture of flexibility and rigidity – Some things you can change and some things you can’t. Project managers and volunteer coordinators are willing to take volunteer ideas and use them to the best of their ability. However, remember that your suggestions must align with practices that work towards African Impact’s sustainable development agenda.   Throw caution to the wind! – Experience everything and throw yourself into projects. Make suggestion after suggestion and work hard to put your mark on the project. That way, you’ll really see how you’re making a difference in the longrun. To join Alanna and the team in St Lucia click HERE      

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