My Volunteer Experience with Embrace Tanzania

By Nicola Da Silva 

The phone buzzed and it was my mom. “Guess what? Nic, Andrew, and Lex booked a trip to Zanzibar and invited me to join. We wish you and Daniel could join to – any chance of that??” Sometimes you get invitations to events and you weakly offer to try your best to make it happen and other times you get an invitation to something and you know that no matter what you will be going! This was one of those. I don’t know why I felt so strongly about going on this trip, but as soon as I knew about it, I couldn’t think about anything else. I started making plans the very next day and everything fell into place perfectly in the 3 weeks I had to pull it off.

I also decided to contact UniversalGiving and see if they could set me up to do some volunteer work while on vacation. Amazingly they helped me find Embrace Tanzania. I emailed them and they got me in touch with Selestin, who is based in Zanzibar and manages the volunteer effort there. 2 days before I left on the trip I emailed Selestin and told him I was coming and would love to have a look at what they  were doing in Zanzibar and see if I could help and also get them connected with Universal Giving. Selestin replied straight away and gave me the address and his telephone number. By the time I checked into the hotel, he had already spoken to them to help organize a day I could come see the different volunteer sites.

On Monday April 28th, my mom and I stepped out of our hotel and into a cab and went to Bububu, Zanzibar. Selestin met us there and showed us around the building where volunteers stay and then Selestin, his colleague Edward, my mom, the cab driver, and I went for lunch. We chatted about the different volunteering options and how my mom and I could get involved. Next stop was the orphanage where Mama Suz looks after about 30 children. The house is a school in the morning; then some of the children go home and others stay at the orphanage. Some children are orphans and others have parents in the sober houses nearby.

I could see that Mama Suz tries her best to look after all these children, but I also noticed that she was conscious about the state of the building and the lack of beds for all the children. We met the kids and then had a “business meeting” in the shade of the tree. I explained what UniversalGiving does and that I would get her connected with them and then asked what her ideas were. Wow – she has such amazing plans and knows what’s important. She said, “these children are orphans and the best thing for them is to have a stable home.” She wants to buy a house so that the children feel secure; buy a bus and have other children in other villages attend her school and pay school fees; and have the school fees as an income so she can afford to look after the children in the orphanage. I loved the idea and we started chatting about what she needed for that to happen. We figured out that the best thing would be for her raise money to buy a piece of land and have a volunteer project set up to build a house for her and the children.

The next step would be to raise money for the bus and get the new children from other villages enrolled in her school. She may need to get more volunteer teachers or hire some more teachers. I offered to do all I could to help her with this dream…and to be honest ever since I got back a month ago, all I can think about is how to help Mama Suz and the children have a home.


Inspired by this amazing story? Volunteer with Embrace Tanzania now!

Take a Volunteer Trip in Thailand

The Little BIG Project_LogoUniversalGiving has recently been working with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), who have launched a contest to promote voluntourism, The Little Big Project.  One winner will receive a two-week volunteer trip to Thailand.  But everyone is invited to volunteer: TAT is partnering with other organizations, including UniversalGiving, to share volunteer opportunities.

Sound appealing?  Looking for adventure?  Here are some top opportunities to volunteer in Thailand with UniversalGiving’s vetted NGO partners:

And if you can’t resist the lure of winning a free volunteer trip from TAT, here’s an excerpt from their recent press release, describing The Little Big Project:

The mission of The Little Big Project is to help others, but it is also a competition: one overseas visitor and one Thai will team up for 2 weeks to work on anything from helping Save the Elephants at a nature park in Chiang Mai, to a community development project for Hill Tribe Children, to Marine Conservation in Koh Talu.

And, they’ll have the chance to share their philanthropy efforts with a world‐wide audience by making blog posts, uploading photos and videos, and telling their story through social media.

Prizes will be awarded, too!

  • The team with the most votes for their blog will win $5,000 USD for donation to their project for continued funding, plus a hotel voucher valued at $500 USD for their personal enjoyment.
  • The visiting competitor whose video receives the most views will win an Apple gift card worth $1,000.

TAT believes The Little Big Project will give people looking to do something different on vacation an opportunity to have a life‐changing adventure, and anyone interested should visit http://www.thelittlebigprojectthailand.com for details on how to enter.

TAT Banner

How to Use Technology to Recruit Volunteers

Today’s guest post is from Clarissa Meyer.            

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of non-profit, charity, or community organizations in the world. And while some have paid positions, most rely heavily on volunteers to keep their operations running. Girl Guides of Canada is nothing without adults running camps and meetings. Habitat for Humanity cannot survive without people willing to lift, tote, and hammer boards. But how do these organizations find and keep volunteers? In the old days it was through bulletin board notices and phone calls. But in our fast-paced, modern world those strategies are not feasible. The volunteer market is competitive and, while people want to give their time, they are not always eager for a phone call, or willing to volunteer in the traditional ways. Using technology can give organizations a leg-up on finding volunteers.

Using a website to advertise an organization and its volunteer positions is an intelligent and efficient way to use technology. Positions can be updated quickly and easily. Profiles of the organization can be included, which people can read at their own leisure. People can follow links to apply for positions on-line, and schedules and events can be posted as well.

Email is a popular method for recruiting and maintaining volunteers. Many people can be contacted at once, and this is a fast and efficient way to update opportunities or send out general inquiries. People that do not cherish face-to-face communication can respond using the written word, and they can reply at their own pace. Email has an advantage over phone conversations as attachments can be sent, with documents, spreadsheets, images, and videos.

Perhaps the best development with volunteering since the advent of the World Wide Web is what is known as Virtual Volunteering (also known as cyber service or on-line volunteering). A virtual volunteer is someone who assists an organization using the Internet or computer technology. They can do tasks such as manage e-mail, design graphics or web pages, organize databases, edit documents, or write proposals. And the appeal of cyber volunteering is plentiful. Many people can help that would not otherwise do so. They may have physical constraints or time issues. People who volunteer through the virtual realm can have flexible schedules and can work from home. They can help an organization halfway around the world! These volunteers might have different skills than other types of volunteers and their talents can be put to good use. Sponsored by the United Nations, http://www.onlinevolunteering.org is a site dedicated to matching virtual volunteers to opportunities. Those seeking volunteers may want to peruse this site and use it to advertise their positions.

Any organization seeking to recruit volunteers should not forget about the power of social media. Word travels quicker through Twitter and Facebook then through any other means. Non-profits can expect very quick networking and advertising through these sites when they post a profile or an advertisement.

Some people prefer to support organizations financially. A site such as UniversalGiving helps people support top-performing organizations from all over the world. The site is built so that 100% of donations go toward the cause of choice. But this site also serves as a volunteer matching site, helping people find volunteer positions which suit their interests/skills.

Lastly, organizations may want to utilize computer software to organize, find, and maintain volunteers. A program like Volunteer Reporter, which has existed for twenty years, allows organizations to track volunteers through a database, merge email contacts, and store volunteer profiles. This software is free to use for one year, as a trial. It is useful for the organization as well as for the volunteers, as volunteers can use the program to log in from home and record their volunteer hours.

Clarissa Meyer works on a non-profit project best-resume-templates.com that is deemed to help people with writing their resumes and CVs. Core interests: e-learning, self-motivation and career development.

Selfless Venture: 7 Traits a Bona Fide Volunteer Should Possess

Today’s guest post is from Tess Pajaron.

Volunteering, when done for the right reasons, is one of the best ways you could ever spend your time, and Mother Teresa, possibly the greatest volunteer of all time, said it best when she said:

“We know only too well that what we are doing is nothing more than a drop in the ocean. But if the drop were not there, the ocean would be missing something.”

Volunteers are a rare breed, and without them, the world would be a very different place. But what does it take to be a great volunteer?

There is no easy answer to this question, as each organization is different and each venture has its own sets of challenges and requirements.

There are, however, a few qualities that every volunteer should strive to emulate, whether they are volunteering at their local homeless shelter or traveling abroad for an international organization.

A Bona Fide Volunteer… 

1. …IS FLEXIBLE

Volunteering is not like any other job; you may not have fixed tasks or schedules, and situations can change quickly. If you are stuck on following a particular plan or doing things a certain way, you may not be as much of a help as you’d like to be.

2. …HAS A FIRM SENSE OF CONVICTION 

Volunteers must have conviction that they are doing the right thing. If you don’t have any convictions about the cause or organization you are volunteering for, you won’t be very convincing to anyone, least of all yourself.

Good volunteers feel called to do what they do, and it shows in their faith, conviction and strong morals. Having conviction is the only way to inspire others, while morals show that you actually practice what you preach.

3. …IS TEACHABLE

A volunteer must be willing to learn and grow. You must be ready to learn from anyone, even If it is someone younger than you or someone you wouldn’t normally expect to learn anything from.

Everyone has something to teach, and if you aren’t open to new opinions and methods, you may miss out on some valuable lessons.

4. …IS COMPASSIONATE

Volunteers must feel compassion and empathy in order to be effective at what they do. If you want to help others, you must be able to put yourself in their shoes and understand their problems as if they were your own.

If you cannot relate to those you are trying to help, you won’t get very far.

5. …EXERCISES HUMILITY

Truly great volunteers are humble about what they do. They are aware of their limitations and willing to put aside their pride in order to learn something new.

Throughout your time as a volunteer, you will probably have countless moments when you realize just how little you really know. Pretending you know something when you don’t will rob you of the chance to grow and become a better person.

6. …IS PATIENT

Good volunteers know that everything takes time, and that good things come to those who wait. Rome wasn’t built in a day and if you want to accomplish anything, you need to be patient.

Progress will often be slow and perhaps not as obvious as you’d like, but if you persevere and wait patiently, you will see your efforts pay off.

7….IS COMMITTED.

Volunteering is often a thankless job, but if you are committed to seeing your venture succeed you will do whatever it takes to make that happen.

If you aren’t committed to the cause, you won’t be reliable or dependable and you’ll probably end up quitting before you have ever really started.

For this reason, it is important that you truly believe in something before you give up your time and money to help out. Commitment is the only thing that will pull you through when things get tough.

Tess Pajaron is part of the team behind OpenColleges. She is a volunteer at her local church and aims to share her learnings through her experiences. On her spare time, she loves to travel and see the world and various cultures.

Start Your Own Volunteer Group

Today’s guest post is from Aniya Wells.

People who are passionate about helping others are unique in that they are able to see solutions to problems. Society, however, sometimes makes it easy to ignore or overlook problems like poverty, homelessness and hunger.

When confronted with these issues, certain special people ask, “What can I do to help?”

Sometimes, there are huge organizations that are already working on solutions.  Other times, we notice things that no one else is talking about. If you see a problem, you can help be the solution. All it takes is a pinch of creativity, a lot of elbow grease and a few friends who are passionate about helping.

When I was in high school, I began a volunteer organization called Getting Involved and Volunteering (GIV). After pitching the idea to my school principal, GIV launched.  Our major fundraiser provided entire Thanksgiving dinners for a dozen disadvantaged families in our county.

During college, there were plenty of options for volunteering; but I was busy with working and studying. I was working with elementary-aged children at a juvenile therapeutic center when I was inspired to start another volunteer group to promote literacy and strengthen reading skills among the youngest kids.

Both of the volunteer groups presented unique challenges and honed my leadership skills. I went into each project completely fueled with passion, with no background in organizing or teaching, so I had a lot of room to grow.

Know the Costs

I started GIV during the fall of my senior year. Luckily, I had an energetic and creative teacher who was able to guide me through the financial aspects of preparing for a fundraiser. We decided that a haunted house would be an excellent fundraiser, but we would need money to cover the costs of creating it. We launched a mini-fundraiser by “selling” dates to the Homecoming dance.

With the money we raised from the Homecoming dance, we bought supplies for the haunted house. It was labor intensive, and it required an entire cast. Once the big night finally arrived, we had a blast! During Halloween, we raised over $1,000 which was a lot for a few high school students.

Unlike GIV, I started the literacy program with no official support. All of the supplies came out of my own pocket; but it was something I could afford to give, especially considering the children had little in the way of possessions or library access.

For formal nonprofit organizations, grants are available. Read more about starting a 501c3.

Consider your Limitations

Even if you want to save the world, you have to accept the fact that you aren’t Superman (or Wonderwoman) and neither are your fellow volunteers.

There are a few things you can do alone. For example, I was able to create summer reading classes for the kids. However, I also needed volunteers to help teach basic skills during the week. I had really high expectations for my volunteers, but sometimes their schedules and other obligations would provide hiccups.

As a leader, especially of volunteers, it’s important to be aware of your expectations and how they contrast with your team’s capabilities. Chances are both of you will have to adjust.

Be Aware of the Risks

During cleanup of our haunted house project, I fell out of a moving vehicle. I received staples in my scalp and had to shave some of my hair. (No lie.) The kids at the therapeutic facility were also socially unpredictable, and sometimes would display aggressive behavior. One of my volunteers was stabbed in the hand with a pencil and subsequently quit.

Also, be aware that your volunteers could be responsible for any damage or injuries they cause. Risk training and other types of education may be needed to ensure volunteers are working safely. Formal organizations may want to purchase insurance to protect against possible damages.

Accidents are uncommon, but they do happen. Being prepared is the best way to handle any setback confidently. Preparing for the unexpected could mean taking a lesson in conflict management (like I did when working with violent kids) or simply wearing a seat belt. If you are in high school, ask your principal about any forms that will renounce liability. Those who are out of high school should operate within the boundaries of other organizing institutions or should apply for nonprofit status.

Aniya Wells is one of the most passionate writers you’ll ever meet. Though her writing interests run the gamut—from personal finance to health to current events and more—her primary interest is modern higher education. She serves as a reliable online degree guide for students considering taking advantage of the conveniences inherent in distance learning. Don’t hesitate to contact Aniya for questions or comments at aniyawells@gmail.com.

What You Should Know About ABE Tutoring

Today’s guest post is from Mariana Ashley.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to volunteer as an Adult Basic Education (ABE) Tutor in my local community for a year, and it was truly one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I tutored a class of four students that met twice a week for two-hour sessions. Although some Adult Basic Education programs involve teaching both literacy skills and basic math skills, the program I volunteered for focused solely on literacy instruction.

Each of the adult students I tutored read on a second to third grade level. Surprisingly, one of my students had actually made it all the way through high school reading on an early elementary school level. All of my students struggled in the workforce because of their lack of essential literacy skills. Many weren’t able to read mail that was sent to them or read menus at restaurants.

They weren’t able to do many of the things most people take for granted, but they were some of the smartest, most interesting people I have ever met. One of them had incredible knowledge of how cars work and how to fix them, and another could build a computer from scratch. Playing music by ear was a breeze for one of my students, and being one of the world’s most nurturing mothers came naturally to the student who always arrived early to my tutoring sessions and sat in the front row.

If you’ve decided to become an ABE Tutor, you can expect that your experience will be as rewarding as mine. I have to admit that some of my time as an ABE Tutor was challenging. I think I learned as much about adult education as my students learned about reading during my year as their tutor. Here are a few things I think it would benefit you to keep in mind if you choose to sign yourself up for the wonderful adventure of being an ABE Tutor:

Being an ABE Tutor Requires Dedication: Before you start tutoring students, you’ll likely be expected to attend a few trainings that will help you prepare to be a successful educator. Remember that being an ABE Tutor is a big commitment. As an ABE Tutor, you’ll probably be meeting with students at least once a week.

ABE Tutors Build the Self-Esteem of Their Students: Some of your students might struggle with self-esteem issues. Lacking basic literacy or math skills as an adult can make some people feel embarrassed. Most ABE students do best when they’re frequently offered genuine praise and encouragement. Additionally, some students will feel uncomfortable reading aloud. It’s best not to try to coerce them into doing anything that makes them feel nervous or uneasy.

Differentiation of Instruction Is Essential: Certain activities will work better for some students than others. A few of your students may learn best by playing games. If you’re tutoring any visual learners, they may benefit from you using visual aids and diagrams during your instruction. Phonics activities may work well for some students who tend to be auditory learners. You might even tutor a student who actually likes completing worksheets (like one of my students). As an ABE Tutor, it’s best to provide your students with a variety of learning activities.

Covering a Few Topics Per Lesson Works Best: It’s not the greatest idea to overload ABE students with too much information at once. It’s common that novice teachers and tutors will try to cover too much material in each lesson. Keep in mind that people learn the most when they’re exposed to the same, few concepts multiple times. At the end of your ABE lessons, it’s also a good idea to ask your students a few questions to check how well they understood the material you covered.

ABE Students Have to Balance Multiple Responsibilities: Your students’ attendance may be spotty. Your students will get sick, they’ll need to stay home to take care of their kids, and sometimes they’ll have to stay late at work. They’re busy adults with a hundred different obligations to fulfill each day. Don’t take it personally if the people you tutor miss a few lessons. And if attendance becomes a major issue for one of your students, make sure you meet privately with that student to discuss how important you think it is for him or her to regularly attend your tutoring sessions.

Adult Students Learn at Their Own Pace: Some of your students will grasp concepts quickly. Others will need more exposure to concepts before they fully understand them. Don’t necessarily expect overnight results for any of your students. Learning to read or learning basic math concepts is difficult, especially if you’ve struggled with doing so your whole life. So, as a tutor, you just need to keep on trying, do your best, and act as a positive force in your students’ lives.

According to some estimates, around 14% of people in the U.S. lack basic reading skills. This means that a good portion of your community could be lacking the literacy skills necessary to thrive. If you have the time to fight illiteracy in your community, I hope that you’ll consider becoming an ABE Tutor and consider the information above if you do become one.

Mariana Ashley is a freelance blogger who primarily writes about how online education and technology are transforming academia as we know it. Having spent a good portion of her professional career trying to reform high schools in East St. Louis, Mariana is particularly interested in how online colleges in Missouri make higher education a possibility for students of all backgrounds. Please contact her at mariana.ashley031@gmail.com if you’d like to discuss this article or education in general.

Five Questions To Ask Before Joining a Construction Project Abroad

Today’s post is from guest blogger Kristie Lewis.

Dedicating one’s time and muscle power to go help construct new dwellings for communities overseas is a very popular choice for many volunteers—after all, volunteers get to help others while simultaneously experiencing an entirely new world. It’s a win-win situation. However, traveling abroad does come with some risks. To makes sure that you are well prepared for what you’re about to get into, make sure to ask your program director these following questions before committing to a volunteer project abroad.

1. How many full time staff members will be in the area? How often will I personally interact with them?

Getting a better idea of  how many staff members will be there to guide and direct you, as well as how many other volunteers will help you build, can really help you make a sound decision of whether this particular project is right for you. After all, less members will mean that you will be accountable for preforming more (and typically harder) tasks and if you’re not the best builder or aren’t good with your hands, you could be biting off more than you can chew.

2. Will any of the staff members be bilingual and will they be able to help me translate at all times?

Some volunteer programs send their program members to English-speaking countries, but typically volunteers are sent to impoverished, non-English speaking third world countries in Latin America, Africa or Asia for example.  While a Spanish-English dictionary for example can help you get by, a translator can help make sure that the project goes more smoothly and that nothing is lost in translation. At the very least your program should provide one translator to be able to help smooth out communication lines, but more can be more reassuring.

3. Will security be provided?

Some abroad destinations are more dangerous than others, especially places like Mexico with the steady growing number of drug cartels. Thus, asking if the volunteer program will provide any sort of security, such as a bodyguard or at the very least someone who oversees the volunteers’ campsite or dwellings while you are away on a construction site, would be a smart move.

4. How will friends and family be able to contact me in case of an emergency?

This is extremely important, especially if you will be gone for more than a week. If something happens back home, will your family be able to reach you through the program director or will you need to provide your own line of communication? For example, some volunteers are encouraged to buy their own temporary mobile phone once in the proper country. It may be wise to also ask whether any internet cafes will be nearby.

5. Do you currently have both domestic and foreign liability insurance?

Unfortunately accidents occasionally happen. If you get injured while on the construction site for example, you don’t want to get stuck with an incredibly large medical bill. Confirm with the program director that you will be covered for liability insurance in case something unfortunate happens.

Volunteering abroad is a wonderful opportunity. Just make sure that you’re ready and properly prepared.

An expert in the construction industry, freelance writer Kristie Lewis offers tips and advice on choosing the best construction management colleges. She welcomes any questions and comments you might have at Kristie.lewis81 @ gmail.com.