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Gap year volunteering - getting started...

Written by The Leap on 20 / 07 / 2017

Gap Year Advice

Gap year volunteering - getting started...

Welcome back Leapers to part two of our volunteering series, where we here at “Leap Towers” will continue to share with you the ‘ins and outs’ of the volunteering world.

I have already discussed with you about why you should get involved with volunteering on your gap year. But now I wish to offer some insight on getting started and finding the right volunteer program…so take notes!

Choosing a volunteer program that’s right for you, by any means can be seen to be a difficult endeavour, and sure, it’s not always a walk in the park. It is a big decision after all! However, I have a few tips to share with you, that will make this process seem far less daunting and ultimately more bearable!

So here is my first piece of advice…

1. Know what you have to offer.

Programs are looking for people who can and want to help them in the running of a particular project. The best volunteers are those who are passionate about what they are doing. There is little point in doing something for the sake of it!

Of course, the whole point of volunteering is to give back, however, if you are not passionate about what you are doing or the idea of what you are going to do, then take a step back and re-evaluate.

When finding the best volunteer program for you, consider what you are passionate about and, in turn, what you have to offer. Often volunteer programs will welcome any and all volunteers. And if you know what you have to offer a particular place and/or program, then it will make your life far easier and much more enjoyable!

So, think strategically about what this volunteer program can do for you. Volunteer work can give you invaluable experience and therefore it could serve as a great stepping stone to other opportunities.

Have a clear idea in your mind about what interests you and what you have to offer a program in terms of skill, passion and determination, and then you are half way there! See! Not as scary as it seems!

Now, so far you should have an idea of what you have to offer in terms of skill, passion and determination, so let’s see what else you need to conquer the volunteering world…

2. Where do I want to be based and what kind of programs interest me the most?

Now, it is your gap year and you are finally free from school. We all know that, ideally you want to be stationed in a sunny place sipping gin & tonics on a beach, and honestly…who doesn’t. But it is time to kick your volunteering ideas into high gear.

I have paired these two headings together because they are seemingly dependant on each other. For example, you might be interested in Forest conservation and Teaching, but also interested in doing it in a particular place which doesn’t necessarily pair those two together.

However, there are various places in which you can do that, for example, you can do 10 weeks in Madagascar Teaching and working on Forest conservation or 5 weeks in Namibia teaching and learning about the local wildlife.

For that reason, this means that volunteering is more dependent on the program rather than the place. Ultimately, you want to be doing something that interests you, something that will challenge you and change you for the better, it you can find exactly that in the place that you want to go to, then great! After all, there are vast volunteering opportunities out there.

Here at the Leap, we alone run volunteering programs in numerous places targeting things from Marine Conservation and Teaching to Horse Riding across the plains of Africa and Community building.

There is nearly always an opportunity to do exactly what you want to do, where you want to do it!

3. What do I want to learn?


I am sure you have heard many stories about what people have gone on to learn on their gap year through their experiences. There are many points to make here, and to make sure that I have covered all bases, I asked Jenny, a fellow Leaper who took a gap year with us in 2012 and who now works here, what she learnt on her gap year, and she brought up the following points:

- Money management!

This is a good place to start, money management is something that we all endeavour to conquer throughout our lives, especially as you are set to enter the adult world, and so, there really is no time like that on a Gap year, to really get to grips with how to manage that money of yours!

This is the time to start being independent, and to stop reaching into mummy and daddy’s pocket every time you want to buy a new pair of shoes…no matter how tempting it is.

Look forward to the time when you will receive your first pay check for all your hard work!

However, as Volunteer programs are not paid gigs, make sure to save some money before you go! And remember, if you don’t have it, you can’t spend it!

- Cultures:

On your year out, you will learn so much about the places that you travel too and the rich background of the communities found there. This is fascinating and personally one of the reasons why I love travelling!

There really is no time like the present to dive into the history of other cultures and learn about something different for a change…and something that’s actually interesting!

- Appreciation:

This is a classic, but I think one of the most important, if not the most important point to make. Going abroad and exploring these cultures and seeing the poverty that is evident in these places can be a real shock, but in a way, it is a good thing to witness, as it makes you appreciate what you have.

It makes you realise that you are very lucky, and it can inspire you to help others, who are less fortunate than you by ultimately putting the world into perspective in terms of the distribution of wealth. An important lesson worth learning.

- Work:

Penultimately, we have the dreaded ‘w’…work. I know what you are thinking, how unfair. Just finished school, finally feeling free and then you are tied down again…but this time, it is for the rest of your life…scary huh?

Work is a big part of volunteering on your gap year, and it is all for a good cause! But most importantly it can be fun. You are in a different country, surrounded by a plethora of cultures and customs, yummy food and engulfed by foreign music and on top of that…you are making a difference.

The work you are doing may be hard at times, and sometimes you will feel that and let it get to you, but everything that you are doing, will not only benefit you, but it will benefit the lives around you. It is a learning curb. Don’t let a little hard work get to you!

- Don’t judge a book by its cover:

Finally, here we have the last point. This is something that unfortunately not everyone learns. At school, everything seems to matter so much, everything is thought down to the last detail, every action is taken with caution to avoid judgement. Things can often seem much bigger than they are, and especially at school, decisions can feel like the difference between life and death.

Obviously, this is rather dramatic, and fundamentally, it isn’t how life is. But judgement can be passed no matter your age and this shouldn’t be the case. This changes as you grow up, people care less about what you look like, your occupation, your background etc., all that matters is that you have an awesome personality and you are yourself, and everything else will fall into place.

Go ahead!

Don’t miss out on your chance to make a little change. What did Ghandi say again? Be the change that you wish to see in the world…

Check out our gap year programs

We have award winning programs across Africa, Asia, South and Central America. All include a mix of projects and adventures. All are supported. All involve team work.

Gap year programs

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