Volunteering Abroad For The First Time – How Do I Do It?

If you want to take the plunge and volunteer abroad for the first time, that is fantastic and I encourage you to! But be warned, once you start, you will most likely catch the travel/volunteer bug!

I have participated in quite a few neutering projects abroad now, with lots more in the pipeline! I have volunteered with large charity organisations which run well-organised projects, and I have volunteered with some small charities directly; there are perks to both!

These projects usually involve trap neuter release (TNR), vaccination projects, or care for patients with infectious diseases and injuries. During these projects, you can really tell the incredible difference you are making, as well as meeting some lovely, like-minded people along the way!

If you are a nervous traveller, have never travelled solo before, want to work with the support of colleagues or want to participate in a volunteer project that has a clear layout and everything organised for you, then I would recommend choosing a project run by a large charity organisation such as Vets Beyond Borders (VBB), Worldwide Veterinary Service (WVS) or one similar! They work with smaller charities in many countries but run clear projects.

These volunteer opportunities do incur a cost; sometimes a membership fee, and sometimes a fee for the project itself. This is dependant on the charity/organisation, and varies on what it covers; sometimes food and accommodation are included, but usually, volunteers will need to pay for their flights, visas and vaccinations.

plane on map

Having personally participated in one of these organised projects, I can say that I found it extremely organised throughout, and I had full support from the organiser; someone was always available for support. They are really helpful when it comes to helping with flights, assistance with visas, advice for vaccinations, accommodation and also for support during the actual project if you have any worries or problems.

If you are a confident traveller, and also if you are confident in working as a solo vet/vet nurse, then I would also recommend looking at some smaller charities. There are many that need help. 

With these projects, it usually requires more effort and organisation from the volunteer. This is where some savvy travelling skills will come in handy – searching for cheap flights, cheap accommodation, researching what vaccinations you might need to get depending on where you are heading, organising transfers, renting a car and food shopping and more. The charity, depending on who they are, how busy they are, what resources they have, may supply help with these things but be prepared to have to organise a lot of these things yourself! However, I have found that a lot of the smaller charities do supply accommodation and some food, and they do usually work out cheaper than an organised project!

The actual structure of the work may not be as organised; they might not have as many animals to neuter so it may be shorter days, the work may be more mixed, such as a bit of neutering, vaccinating and general animal care, you may have extremely busy days with little breaks, or it may depend on the caseload that they have! If you are one for strict routine, choose the project wisely!

Finding these volunteer opportunities either works by the charity reaching out for volunteers, or the volunteer reaching out to the charities. If the former, they usually will use social media, so ensure you keep an eye out. A fantastic active group is called ‘Veterinary Volunteering’ on Facebook which has a lot of small charities and new projects who post recruiting for volunteers for a wide variety of projects.

If the latter, and you are interested in volunteering in a particular place, or you are going on holiday somewhere and are interested to see if you can donate some time to a charity whilst you are there, you can do some research online and see if there are any in the area – chances are there are! So if you have found a charity or organisation, email or write to them; you may get a response, you may not, but it is definitely worth a try! The odds are definitely in your favour, a lot of charities abroad rely on volunteers, and will now need more help than ever due to the current pandemic.

With both the small and large organisations, they will ask for your CV and you may need to answer some questions. With popular projects, you may be in competition for the volunteer position, so definitely prepare and apply with this in mind!

If you are interested in volunteering and want to know more, I have made a list of different volunteer projects with details about them and reviews from veterinary staff – find it on my blog here: https://thetravellingveterinarynurse.blogspot.com/2020/04/veterinary-volunteering-organisations.html

Written by Lucy Taylor

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