Advice for Russians on volunteering abroad
MGU student Evgenia Masloboeva held a lecture at the Blagosfera centre titled ‘A Trend in Volunteering: How to Volunteer Abroad’, in which she explained how to get onto an international volunteer project and the associated costs.
Masloboeva has participated in seven international volunteer projects in different countries (Italy, Greece, Iceland, Austria, Spain, France, Portugal), and in 2018 she visited the Arctic as a volunteer. She shared her experience, what kind of work volunteers usually do and what advantages are given by participation in such projects.
According to Masloboeva, there are a plenty of volunteer programmes around the world, meaning that everyone can find something that speaks to them. Age limits are almost non-existent. The website for the youth movement Sphere, which has been engaged in international volunteer projects since 2007, suggests that people from ages 15 to 99 can participate in such projects, although the volunteers are usually between the ages of 18 and 30, and that you can go with a friend or even with your whole family.
There are short-term (2-3 weeks) and long-term (up to a year) projects. The rules often dictate that there should be no more than two representatives of any one country per project. This means that only two people from Russia can be selected, and the competition for popular destinations and exotic countries can be as many as five people per place.
According to Masloboeva, you therefore need to submit your application as soon as possible. Speed is the main factor affecting your chances to be accepted on to a project. As a rule, the best time to search for volunteering abroad and submit an application is between March and May. It is during this period that the main volunteer teams are formed and an applicant has more choice over when they would like to take part; however, most programmes take place in the summer.
You can also choose the area of activities that most interests you: to work at a festival, harvest, participate in an excavation, spend time with children or engage in social work.
How does it work?
Each person chooses at least three projects from the available options.
“Before participating in any of the projects, you will need to pay the 6500 ruble participation fee. This is split between the hosting and sending organisations,” says Masloboeva.
The host party pays for room and board, as well as the costs of the camp’s cultural and educational programmes. Living conditions are always different and it all depends on the host and the specifics of the camp. For example, they can provide a dormitory, a tent, a hostel, or something else. However, after you have been approved for participation in a particular project, the organisers will always give written instructions regarding what things you need to take with you (sleeping bag, boots for traveling over rough terrain, etc.).
Despite the fact the camps often host people from many different countries, the common language is English. Volunteers are usually busy 4-6 hours a day, five days a week. At the weekend there are excursion programmes, sightseeing and opportunities to become acquainted with the local culture.
Masloboeva recalls that “when I was on Santorini in Greece, one local was so well connected that we could get discounts in restaurants, free cocktails in bars and a free ride on the bus by just giving his name”.
Some projects have specific requirements, for example knowledge of German or French, or a certain level of physical fitness.
What does volunteering provide?
First of all, volunteers get an excellent teamwork experience. This will be needed everywhere, from in school to future careers. It is also very good language practice.
Masloboeva says that “thanks to my experience, I now speak English fluently and have even acted as a translator”.
You tap into an international network of friends around the world, which is very important for those who like to travel, and broaden your experience with different kinds of people.
Masloboeva said that, “when I lived in a camp, many people said to me that they thought Russians were different, that they were closed-off and didn’t smile. I was pleased to break this stereotype and show that Russians are normal and prepared to socialise”.
Above all else, volunteering is travelling on a budget; only transport is payed for by the volunteer. The organisers pay for room and board, although some projects, such as Iceland, require an additional fee.
Where do you start?
There are six points of action in order to go to an international volunteer camp:
- Choose a camp.
- Submit an application.
- Pay the fee (6500 rubles). If you are not accepted on to the project this fee can rollover on to your next application.
- Receive confirmation.
- Buy a ticket.
- Prepare for the trip.
“But still,” notes Masloboeva, “we must not forget that the main purpose of the trip is to help, and must align with the ethos that we are going to make the world a better place”.
Svoi Lektsiia is a civil education project at the Blagosfera centre, in which anyone who fancies themselves as a lecturer on the topics of social activity, charity and culture can give it a go. If you have personal experience or knowledge to share, you can organise your lecture by submitting an application at the Blagosfera centre and providing at least 15 interested listeners.