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Volunteering Overseas

Updated on April 21, 2013
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Debbie is a licensed counselor in the state of Arkansas. She lived in Venezuela and worked with a local orphanage there for many years.

Volunteers love children!

What to Do and Not Do When Volunteering Overseas

During the time that I lived and worked in Venezuela, my family hosted many volunteer teams from all over the U.S. It was a privilege to be able to help these generous, big hearted people as they shared their resources and hard work with those less fortunate.

Some volunteer teams came to conduct medical missions and I helped translate between physicians and patients. It was tireless work with long lines of people waiting from the wee hours of the morning for services. Other teams did construction work, held Vacation Bible School in lower income areas, played with the children at local orphanages, and others came to teach. It was a blessing to work with each one of them.

Upon their arrival we held a short orientation to help them understand the "Do's and Don'ts" of working in a foreign country. Here are a few of the things that we shared with them:

1) Leave your valuables at home! Don't wear expensive jewelry, use expensive cameras, or carry your iPad around.

2)Don't plan on using your cell phone while overseas unless you plan on paying high roaming charges.

3) When in public as a group, refrain from speaking loudly. You already stick out so don't make it worse. Don't confirm the stereotype of the "loud, obnoxious Americans".

4) Don't count your money in public. One volunteer did this on the street as he was debating about buying something and he lost it all as a thief ran by and grabbed his cash.

5) When your host is driving you through heavy traffic, don't fire questions at him/her about the country and culture. Wait until your host is not driving! One night a team arrived late at night and I was responsible for driving 4 of them to their hotel which was 45 minutes from the airport. On top of it all, it was raining heavily! One volunteer who was very excited to be there asked non-stop questions as I tried to get them to their destination safely through the traffic and in the downpour!

6) Don't make promises to the national people. It's easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment as you see their needs and promise them financial help or help getting to the U.S., but once you get back home to your routine, it may be hard to follow through.

7) Before the trip, ask your host what you might bring them from the U.S. that they can't get in that country. I appreciated the peanut butter so much!

8) Repeat trips to the same place has great value because you can develop lasting relationships with a few special people.

9) When a National serves you food, eat it! It is very rude in most countries for a guest to turn their nose up to something that has been prepared with love and sometimes at great expense. If you are afraid you might get sick, pray as you eat it! (and take along some good diarrhea medicine!)

10) Take comfortable walking shoes! Most likely you will be walking a lot and be on your feet as you work.

11) Take insect repellant and sun screen! A small fan for hot climates is a great idea too. Hand sanitizer is important as you may be eating at times and places where a sink is not available to wash up.

12) Take plenty of snacks in case you don't get to eat when you're hungry! Granola bars and trail mix are great choices.

13) Make sure you take all your medications with you and take a physician's note for any conditions that you have.

Finally, Volunteers are awesome! They give of their vacation time and finances to travel to far away places, they risk illness and other unknowns to help others. Some of my best friends today are special people who returned year after year to share their heart with others.

I want to mention a very special volunteer, Don Langston, from Strawberry Plains, TN. He came to Venezuela for 20+ years where he helped do maintenance, played with the children at the orphanages, made baloon animals for the children at camp, served as the camp photographer, made furniture, and always brought great snacks that he shared generously with my children! Don went Home a couple of years ago after a long and productive life. Bye Don, Venezuela misses you, and I do too.

Don Langston making baloons for the kids at an orphanage.
Don Langston making baloons for the kids at an orphanage.
Travel in the back of a truck
Travel in the back of a truck


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