Why should you pay to volunteer?

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Milena, Voluntario Global's Volunteer Coordinator Milena, Voluntario Global's Volunteer Coordinator Kristine Vaivode

A volunteer is defined in the Oxford dictionary as follows:"a person who freely offers to take part in an enterprise or undertake a task" or "a person who works for an organization without being paid".

These days, I'm seeing more and more "volunteers" expecting to be "paid", at the very least, in kind, with some sort of "freebies" when performing volunteer work.

I have my own thoughts on that but if that be the case already, can you imagine what volunteers are thinking when they are asked to make a donation in order to volunteer with an organisation?

Absolutely scandalised, I would imagine! "What? Why do I have to pay to do work for free?" you may ask. I attribute this confusion to the connotation of the word "volunteer" as stated above. Because when you think you're already offering your precious time to help out, you feel like that is enough.

Well, at Voluntario Global, indeed you have to make a donation while applying to work here. That is primarily because Voluntario Global is a Not-For-Profit, Non-Government Organisation (NGO), this means that they do not receive government funding in any shape or form; nor do they operate for profit.

In theory, Voluntario Global could attract business and governmental sponsors, and offer to advertise for them in return. However, that would go against their values for "community". By asking volunteers for a donation, they stay true to their mission and vision - building local community networks through helping each other. It keeps it more personal and tangible for the volunteer.

Any funds, post taxes and fees deducted from the bank, generated from the donations of volunteers go towards funding the projects and cooperatives with which the organisation collaborates. This includes remunerating the coordinators (around 20% of receipts) who work extremely hard year round to keep the organisation running (and have done so for the past decade). They help arrange the accommodation of the volunteers, help you settle in upon arrival and provide continuous support throughout the duration of their stay to ensure that you are 100% comfortable and safe. My personal experience has been testament to this.

The coordinators also work alongside their communication volunteers to help market and attract a constant flow of high calibre volunteers into their numerous projects, whilst maintaining their relationship with the communities they support. Therefore, without the hard work of the coordinators, you wouldn't know how to find out about where you could help in the local community. They are the missing link.

The rest of the funds is allocated as follows:

  • 10% Website Maintenance.
  • 40% Goes to the projects: 20% is assigned to the project you work for and 20% is saved and used according to major needs of the Network (Social Savings Fund).
  • 30% Is used to legally administrate and sustain the The Voluntario Global Network of Projects: this includes lawyers, paperwork, certifications, meetings, and to cover any urgent needs the projects might have.

So what are you getting in return?

The answer lies in why you want to volunteer....

Besides the sheer gratification of knowing that you have contributed, somewhat selflessly, to society and humankind in general, the rewards of volunteering go beyond any monetary sacrifice you are making.

1. You gain invaluable experience working with locals

I can't think of a better way to rapidly integrate into local life than volunteering. In a very short span of time, you will be seeing sides of Buenos Aires and Argentinian life you'd not normally witness as an average vacationer or even expat worker.

Beyond the famed barrios of Palermo and Recoleta, which have had billions of pesos of taxpayer money invested into their aesthetics, you will experience the less glamorous, more desperate yet charmingly and heartbreakingly authentic areas like Villa de Mayo, Pacheco and Suárez, where the word "community" takes on it's true meaning.

The Voluntario Global team will definitely take you right into the heart and soul of Argentina with it's varied array of projects.

2. You learn how to work in a multicultural, multilingual environment

For those of you where this is the first time you really step out of your comfort zone to venture into new realms, volunteering in an organisation like Voluntario Global that connects local communities with the rest of the world will ensure that you develop your interpersonal as well as intercultural communication skills.

Together with your fellow global co-volunteers, you will be exposed to a multitude of nationalities, languages and cultural nuances. You will learn valuable business etiquette, both of your host country (in this case, Argentina) and the home countries of your fellow voluneers.

You will be working in both English and Spanish, which brings me to my next point.

3. Complete language immersion

If you're a language aficionado like me, or even just keen to pick up a bit of Spanish, you're in for a treat! Never have I had so much fun improving my Spanish through a range of creative tasks in the Communications team, such as translation, interpreting, subtitling, writing and presenting, or simply through interacting with everyone in Castellano!

A fellow volunteer who did not speak a word of Spanish nor had she had any language classes prior to her arrival, actually left after a couple of months with at least a B1 (and without having to try too hard), and is inspired to keep learning. El idioma se te pegará! (The language will stick to you!)

4. Forge life-long friendships

Whether with the coordinators, the project managers or your co-volunteers; whether you volunteer for a few days, a week, or a month, you're bound to leave your experience at Voluntario Global with connections for life! And we all know how our networks matter in every aspect of our lives.

Why? How is that possible?

Because when you decided to volunteer (before even arriving in Argentina), you already have a very crucial and significant characteristic in common with all Voluntario Global volunteers: culture.

By culture, I'm not referring your heritage or nationality. I'm referring to a set of values by which you live. A culture that encompasses an open heart, curious mind and adventurous soul.

5. Boost your resume

Nevermind all the transferable skills you acquire by working in such projects in a language and culture completely different to your own, future employers would most definitely look upon this kind of volunteering experience favourably, as it speaks volumes to your character. Not everybody can be a volunteer - it takes a certain personality, drive and courage to pursue this type of endeavour.

There's doing fantastic work when you're being paid to do so, then there's self-starting motivation to work for something greater than monetary gain. That is an extremely admirable and valuable quality to possess and demonstrate, which will surely stand you in good stead in any future organisation. Take it from someone who's worked in seven international, high-profile companies across five countries.

6. Time for introspection

You're away from your family, your friends, your school, your job, everything warm and familiar to you. You've entered a fresh and unique space where the anonymity means you could be absolutely whomever you wish to be. What do you do?

You start to think, to experiment, question everything and anything. You will challenge yourself to find out who you are and who you aspire to be; what you love and what you dislike; what you can and cannot live without. All the doubts you didn't have the time to ponder in your reality, will be examined in this time of freedom.

And you will return renewed... or indeed, not return at all... (it happens).

7. We value more what we worked hard to earn

Think of a free holiday your parents paid for...

Now think of an experience for which you worked two part-tme jobs to save up over a few months or for which you invested time and effort in raising funds...

Which would be more valuable to you?

In summary, I believe that when it's for a cause you really believe in, the money won't matter. Besides, I'd rather pay the organisation directly, knowing where my money is going,  than pay it to one of the various volunteer placement agents out there who are charging ridiculous fees.

So instead of spending your summer holidays sipping cocktails on a beach (for which you probably paid an absurd sum of money), why not give volunteering in Argentina a try? The beach is only four hours away ;)

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Voluntario Global helps local communities by being available to discuss anything that local organizations need, and offering ideas for further change and development.


Location: General Pacheco. Buenos Aires. Argentina
Email: jfranco@voluntarioglobal.org

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