Volunteering abroad to make a difference:
skilled volunteering and cultural immersion
Volunteering with a local organisation offers true cultural immersion and exchange
Last week, I reflected on how I witnessed the benefits of skill based volunteering outliving the duration of the placements. I shared how volunteering abroad in India is an amazing way to support a local initiative, and develop personally and professionally. I concluded that skill exchange gives equal weight to the experience of the volunteer and the partner organisation. It is therefore the most responsible way to volunteer abroad.
This week I want to continue with the topic, and take a look at a different aspect: cultural immersion. Cultural immersion is one of the perks of volunteering abroad, as volunteers get to see and experience India’s culture, customs and people through the eyes of a local. And skill exchange plays an important role in that process.
Experiencing life as a local
Skill based volunteering is the best way to make a difference whilst volunteering abroad, and experience true cultural immersion. During your placement, you are an integral member of the local team. You are collaborating with the staff of your partner organisation, and have a stake in their learning and success. That means you gain first-hand insights into the Indian working world, and develop cross-cultural skills in the process. You get the chance to experience your profession through the eyes of local experts, learn from their insights, and discuss best practices.
On top of that, your placement supervisor helps you to find your way around and get a grasp of the city. They make recommendations of places to go and things to do. It is not uncommon to tag along to the wedding of a friend of a friend of a friend (and this is something you HAVE to experience when in India), get invited to family lunches or dinners, or witness a couple of poojas (Hindu prayers). Working and collaborating with a local team means true cultural immersion, both during working hours and in your free time.
In past volunteer placements, and with the help of our local partners, I have gotten the chance to:
- Visit family in the home village and drive their tractor
- Light a candle during Diwali celebrations
- Experience three Indian weddings
- Watch countless Tollywood and Bollywood movies without understanding a word
- Eat my way through local food stands without falling sick
- Meditate and practice yoga more regularly than ever before
- Visit Hindu temples and learn about the prayers and practices
The list goes on, and on, and on.
Cultural immersion and skill exchange leads to long lasting impact
Similarly, your partner organisation greatly benefits from the cultural exchange. Skill based volunteering is an investment in the future, with tangible goals being achieved along the way. The insights you provide, the knowledge you communicate, and the skills you share have an immediate impact on the local organisation. Staff members learn from your experiences, processes are shaped and innovated, and best practices established. Merging local knowledge with your foreign expertise leads to innovation and new learnings. In the long run, these learnings and changes keep making an impact on the working practices of your local partner. So even when you’re leaving India and your volunteer placement, your insights and knowledge stay with them.
Supporting a local women’s group to scale their efforts
One of our projects was to support a local women’s group that focused on the production of herbal medicines, foods and cosmetics. The goal was to empower the women to help them in earning a livelihood, and also ensure that ancient practices in herbal medicine live on. Two skilled professionals were volunteering with this project and organised a training day. Throughout the training they practised sales conversations, financial literacy, as well as communication best practices. In the end they finished with a team building exercise, that left the group feeling invigorated and connected. Later on I learned that the women purchased identical sarees as a uniform and were able to significantly increase their sales after the training conducted by the volunteers. The combination of local knowledge and foreign expertise made a long lasting impression and impact on this partner organisation.
Cultural immersion and skill exchange go hand in hand, and make skill based volunteering the most responsible way to make a difference. Contact us to make a difference and volunteer responsibly whilst immersing yourself in the Indian culture.