It may not be for everyone but the work that volunteers do is extremely inspiring. Whether you do it at home or abroad, for a few weeks or a few years, the value of volunteering is enormous. You can have a truly significant impact on the lives of others.
In the TEFL industry, it's something which is often brushed aside by those looking only for paid work. That's not because people don't want to help others, but because it can be very difficult for some people to fund such an experience - mainly due to the whole 'no wage' situation.
Volunteering can offer more, though - to those you teach and to you, too. In many cases the schools involved have limited resources and are often based in communities that have very little. In acting as a volunteer your actions play a huge part in the development of those you work with. Many see the English language as key in a countries economic development, and knowing that you're helping to improve somebody's future prospects is extremely humbling.
Sri Lanka, India, Georgia, Burma, Nepal, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Honduras; the list goes on. There are a vast range of opportunities to volunteer and really make a difference. It will give you valuable hands-on work experience and is a rewarding and refreshing endeavour for those of you who want to do something truly worthwhile.
TEFL England is currently working alongside Naturally Africa, an organisation providing opportunities for skilled and non-skilled volunteers to help make a difference in Africa. We also work alongside VESL, an organisation that places volunteers in Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. Recently we received an update from one volunteer called Melissa, currently based in Sri Lanka. She talked us through a typical day there and to put it simply, it sounds brilliant. Even in describing her journey to work each morning, it sounds like an experience unlike any other:
"Kumara, my three-wheeler driver, collects me at 7:10am, along with the family's two sons, Ashan and Lohan. Some days one or two (or even three) other people squeeze in with us and we set off on the ten-minute drive to school. I take in the sights around me; beautiful green mountains, rain-sodden paddy fields, buses so full that people are hanging off the sides, small boutiques selling fresh fruit and vegetables, a herd of cows wandering along the middle of the road and stray dogs roaming the lanes in search of morsels of food."
Melissa teaches a range of different students, and when talking of one particular class she says:
"They are working incredibly hard at the moment, as their exams are in just four weeks, yet despite all of their extra tuition during the evenings and weekends, they choose to spend some of their limited free time with me. They are amazing girls; intelligent, respectful, kind and ambitious, and so humble. I know they will all achieve great things one day."
This is a clear testament to the value Melissa associates with her work there but more importantly the impact of the work she's doing over there. For those of you who are looking to try something a little different this year and abandon your comfort zone (even if only for a little while) then maybe consider a stint volunteering abroad. You'll have fun, make lots of new friends and play a vital role in supporting schools and students around the world.
Follow Alana MacPherson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@TEFLorguk