The Dirty Secret of Volunteering: You Get More than You Give
Thank you, Peace Corps. In 1975, serendipity led me to you via an anonymous want ad touting “Teaching Positions Overseas.” An application and several months later, I showed up in Washington, D.C., at a borderline hotel with ten dollars in my pocket — on my way to Senegal, Africa. After our 10–week training in Dakar, I moved into a mud hut in the Sahara and was adopted by an African chief for my program, Animation Rurale. During my stay, we fought our way through a drought, locust swarms, and a serious rat epidemic. I organized and managed a classroom construction project and helped on a well digging project. I began a vegetable garden project, though the rats nixed that idea.
When the rainy season came, the roof of my hut became saturated, and I was afraid that the crossbeam might crash down on my bed while I was asleep. It held. And the brown, thorny dessert bloomed with green grass and became a prairie with beautiful blue ponds spotting the horizon. All the animals had babies. Cows gave sweet milk. It was the most sudden and magnificent springtime I’d ever experienced.
These wondrous people were among the world’s poorest but also among the most generous I’d ever encountered. The village chief gave me a mud hut to live in and fed me. And they gave me so much more. Forty-four years later, nearing the end of a career in international development, I’m still reaping the dividends of my volunteer service.
ACDI/VOCA, where I work today, is an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to achieve better lives for people and communities by increasing economic prosperity and social inclusion. We design and implement programs in developing countries. Of special note, we’ve mobilized over 12,000 skilled professionals as international volunteers to more than 130 developing countries to improve the capacity of their agricultural, business, and nonprofit sectors. We have built a reputation of quality and professionalism by offering high–quality volunteer technical assistance to local farmers, nongovernmental organizations, cooperative associations, and agribusiness support institutions. ACDI/VOCA offers volunteer opportunities through individual assignments, a service learning corps for post-graduate students, and organized corporate programs.
We believe that economic impact and measurable results can be achieved through the transfer of knowledge and expertise of highly skilled international volunteers. With proven experience in their areas of expertise, ACDI/VOCA volunteers provide targeted assistance to our field projects in areas such as agribusiness, community development, and financial services, among others. Volunteers share valuable knowledge and experience during an assignment, while gaining new friendships, learning about different cultures, and experiencing their field of expertise in a different way.
The ACDI/VOCA Volunteer Program is rich with tales of volunteers who are so moved by their assignments that they become activists in their home communities and return for additional assignments. Their reports document meaningful work that has measurable impact. You can browse current ACDI/VOCA volunteer opportunities here.
What do you have to lose? It might change your life.