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Volunteering abroad

Charlotte Blackmore got into the car where her mother had been waiting to pick her up and started crying.


Charlotte Blackmore got into the car where her mother had been waiting to pick her up and started crying.

She had just left the building where she had attended a leadership conference in Peterborough, Ont. While there, she heard a speech by child rights advocate Craig Kielburger that motivated and inspired her to pursue her desire to travel while doing something to benefit others.

Within a week, the 17-year-old had signed up to volunteer in Kenya the summer before starting university.

“I think it was just the combination of the travel and do amazing things while you’re doing it,” Blackmore, now 21, recalled of the message that resonated from Kielburger’s speech.

“It was the first time I had ever thought or imagined the possibility of going to a place like Africa, which at the time had seemed a foreign concept to someone of my age.”

Blackmore teamed up with Kielburger’s organization, Free The Children, and joined a group of volunteers living at a camp in the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, spending half-days teaching English, math and science to children at the Emorijoi school.

Recently at 19, Blackmore was glancing through the brochure, she said for some reason the idea of Nicaragua “totally stuck out.”

But unlike her experience with Free The Children, where volunteers travel in a large group and do everything together, this time out, she’d be on her own with just a support staff. Blackmore recalls the precise moment where it went from more than just a volunteer stint abroad to become transformative.

“We had just come back from working on about a 10-hour day in a really, really, rural clinic and I was riding in the back of a pickup truck, and we were coming down the side of a mountain and the sun was setting,” she recalls.

“It was just a pristine moment, I couldn’t probably ever repeat it ... but it was the moment when I realized that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Things To Consider

Jeff Minthorn has had his fair share of international travel, whether it’s studying in Italy, living in the U.K. or working in Antarctica.

Now as co-founder and editor-in-chief of Verge Magazine, a Canadian-based publication focused on exploring opportunities to study, work and volunteer abroad, he and his staff help provide the tools and resources to others interested in heading overseas.

He suggests those thinking of volunteering abroad take time to consider a few things before they start packing their bags.

Motivation

>> An honest assessment of what’s motivating you to go. Determine what you hope to get out of it by identifying your goals and expectations of what you’re hoping to achieve.

Inspiration

>> Once that’s been established, the next task is choosing the location. “What place holds some fascination for you, or have you always wanted to go,” he said. “Or maybe you know somebody who grew up in a certain place and you wonder, ‘I wonder what it was like there?”'

Aspiration

>> Decide what you would like to do while you’re there and what skill sets you’d like to develop or put to use. “The motivation, the place you’d like to go to and what you’d like to do there: it’s a process then of trying to mesh those things.”

Preparation

>> Minthorn also recommends that people leave themselves between six months to a year to properly plan for their journey, which will include ensuring you have the proper visas for entry, work permits, and depending on location, the needed shots and inoculations.

 
 
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