Working in another country can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, as well as one of the most challenging. Volunteer work can be tough, it can exacerbate feelings of culture shock, and it can be monotonous at times. The essence of the experience lies in the fact that you live and work in a foreign country, and that you interact with the community - not passing through as a tourist, but as part of that community.
By doing this, you will come across different values, different work ethics, different cultural expectations...even different food and daily routine. The key is not to try to ignore any feelings of culture shock but to recognise it and work through it, which at the end of the day will give you a deeper understanding of the new culture and of yourself.
Although you should not expect to be able to make dramatic changes in the system, remember that every little really does help, and that your sincere efforts will leave it a better place than you found it. Be aware of your expectations, be willing to experiment, and you will find that the language school was really only the launching pad for your learning!
Good luck...and enjoy!
Your Language Course
If you are taking a Language & Volunteering programme and are a complete beginner in the language, you will probably find it useful to pick up a few basics before you go and start your course (even if you're not taking the language option it's useful to learn a few words and phrases before you go). Some people take a language course in their home country prior to departure, which is ideal, but even if you don't have time for this it's a good idea to buy a phrasebook and acquaint yourself with some common phrases and expressions. Not only will it be a good base to work from when you arrive, it will also give you a bit of confidence and make your first few days that little bit easier.
Whatever level you are, we recommend you take a dictionary and a small grammar or phrase book with you, to help with your language classes and any homework you are given (yes, this does happen, but we promise it's only to help reinforce what you've learnt in the day).
Remember school materials also make great donations, especially if your volunteer placement involves working with children: pens, crayons, colouring books, etc. are always received with excitement.
We try to keep our costs as low as possible but of course every little helps, and if you're planning to go away for a few months you will probably already have thought of ways to fund your trip.
There are many fun and interesting ways to raise funds, whilst also raising the profile of your trip, and the easiest thing is usually to base these around things that you already like doing and with people that you already know.
Why not try the following:
A Raffle - ask friends & local businesses for donations, (this can be good publicity for them)
A Sale - eg. arts & crafts, food, garage sale, car boot sale, old books.
An Event - eg. dance, music, race, competition, sports.
Media - use local media to promote your fundraising event if you're planning something big
Sponsoring - some businesses are willing to sponsor volunteers in return for good publicity.
We strongly encourage all volunteers to bring in-kind donations to their host organisations, regardless of where they are volunteering. These donations will be required of direct volunteers travelling to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador.
In-kind donations should be either educational or medical in nature, and our partner schools in-country are working with the volunteer organisations to draw up lists of necessary items. These donations will foster better relations with these organisations and promote good will between you, the participant, and the community in which you will be staying. Volunteers who prefer to travel light can take donations in cash instead (30-60 euros).
Cactus are also supporting the shipping of a cargo container of medical supplies and other goods to Guatemala. Schools and other organisations are collecting charitable goods to add to the container, which will be shipped in July. Please let us know if you would like to contribute to this effort.
Please contact us if you have any questions at all on donations, or would like to know which items can usefully be donated. On behalf of our volunteer organisations we would like to thank you in advance for your help!