Choosing the right volunteering opportunity for you can take time, but believe me when I say it is worth taking the time to make sure the role matches your skills, experiences and expectations. Finding a volunteering opportunity with migrants or refugees may need even more thought to make sure you find the right match for you and the charity you volunteer with.
There are over 65 million forcibly displaced people in the world right now according to the UNHCR statistics. Though mainstream media focuses on the Syrian refugee crisis there are also people fleeing from numerous other countries, including Burma, Afghanistan, Turkey and Somalia.
There are many different ways and many different places you can help refugees and migrants in need, from collecting and distributing supplies in camps abroad, to fundraising from home in the UK.
For 8 years I worked in volunteer management, supporting students, young people and adults to find the best volunteering opportunities. My number one piece of advice, especially when volunteering abroad, was always (and still is), do your research!
This is the third post in my series of blog posts about volunteering with refugees and migrants in partnership with the Government (HMG) and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO). You can read my first two by clicking the links below:
- What skills do you need to volunteer with migrants and refugees in the UK
- How to volunteer safely with migrants and refugees
Here are a few tips to help you choose the right volunteering opportunity for you:
1. Do your research
Do your research; whatever kind of volunteering it is you want to do. I will keep repeating this advice! There are so many different opportunities out there that involve different time commitments, need different skills or involve receiving different rewards or volunteering with different people.
You really need to research what is the best role for you, whether it is heading abroad for a few months to help at a refugee camp or spending some time each week teaching refugees in the UK a new skill. You want to make sure you know what you are signing up for before you begin.
2. Understand the people you are volunteering with
Migrants and refugees are often quite misunderstood. It can be very hard to understand what they might have gone through before they came to be in the camp or country you are volunteering in.
Though you will never be able to put yourself in their shoes, doing some research beforehand on where the refugees or migrants have come from, or some of the things they might have gone through can help you to empathise and understand their vulnerabilities and some of the reactions and emotions they might show when volunteering with them.
HMG and NCVO have put together some great guidance on UK asylum and irregular immigration which can help you understand a bit more too.
3. Volunteer with a reputable organisation
You are better volunteering with an organisation which can help prepare you and make sure you are helping in the right way, rather than just turning up to help in refugee camps.
Without preparation you could end up offering the wrong advice to refugees or even inadvertently enable immigration crime (unbeknownst to you) without the right training and preparation from the right organisation.
Volunteering through a proper organisation can help make sure you get the right support before, during and after your volunteering experience.
4. Talk to people who have already volunteered
Alongside your research make sure you talk to people who have already volunteered before at the place(s) you are thinking of going to. First-hand experience is the best way of understanding what will be expected of you, the emotions you might go through, the highs and lows, and the little things that you might not find online.
Read my friend Flora the Explorer’s detailed account of volunteering in the Calais warehouse.
5. Think about the skills you have to offer
Volunteering is as much about you gaining new skills as it is about you sharing your skills to support others. This could be anything from more concrete skills like teaching or nursing, to more transferrable skills like organisation and team management.
Make a list of the skills you want to share and then what you might hope to gain or improve in return and see where they match with volunteering opportunities you see advertised.
6. Be committed
Your commitment as a volunteer is often the most important thing for an organisation. They will probably spend time and money training you up into a new role and so they hope you will stick with your volunteering as long as you agreed at the start.
Obviously this isn’t a job so ultimately it is down to you, but make sure you have an idea of the time commitment that is expected, be that moving abroad to a camp to volunteer five days a week for three months, or committing to one hour a week for three months back home in the UK.
Read more about volunteering safely with refugees and migrants.
I made two videos with NCVO on volunteering safely with refugees. The second video was an interview with Georgia who volunteers regularly with Help Refugees talking about her experiences in Greece.
Hopefully the tips above can help you choose the right volunteering opportunity. To give you a head start on specific roles, here are a few organisations that are often looking for people to volunteer with refugees and migrants.
- UNHCR – longer term opportunities mainly abroad
- British Red Cross – longer term opportunities in the UK and abroad
- Refugee Week – short term opportunities to help promote and organise Refugee Week events
Read more about volunteering safely with migrants and refugees and follow @ncvovolunteers on Twitter or @NCVOCharity on Facebook.
This post was in collaboration with HMG and NCVO.