I’m Justine, a Brit who loves the great outdoors and has two main desires in life: to travel and photograph. I’m very happy when doing one but I’m in heaven when doing them together. I also have a love for slow travel, hiking and snorkelling, crazy adventures, islands, and offbeat places – all of which my poor cameras have to endure. Having quit my full-time job several years ago, I now spend about half the year travelling. I pay the bills by photographing, blogging, teaching, and the occasional marketing/communications work.
Please introduce your blog to our readers and what your blog covers.
My blog, Lost in the Midlands , is based on budget adventure and travel, with a focus on the more unusual places of the world. It’s also about getting under the skin of the countries – more than just visiting their most famous cities or landmarks but also becoming a part of the culture and giving back to the people that live there. And that’s where volunteering side comes in.
What volunteering experiences have you done and where have you done them?
In the last 10 years I’ve taken part in 5 volunteer projects, totaling up to around 9 months of work! The most recent (and longest) project I did was in Bangladesh in 2017. I was there for just under 4 months, working with ICS (International Citizen Service, a government-led project aimed at developing young adults) in conjunction with VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas).
I did this project from Sep-Dec 2017.
How did you find out about these volunteering opportunities?
The program actually popped up as an advert on my facebook page. I’d been thinking about doing one for a few months by that time… It’s as though facebook read my mind!
Do you have a recommended places where our readers can find out about volunteering opportunities?
Nothing beats a google search! Otherwise word of mouth.
What made you choose the particular volunteering experience or experiences?
In regards to Bangladesh I was keen to do a longer term project in the hope I could make a bigger and more lasting impact. As a government-led project, VSO ICS felt like a credible place to do it and it didn’t require any specialised skills. Also their volunteer support is fantastic – their staff are always on hand to talk to even after you’ve finished your placement.
What planning or preparation did you need to do prior to you’re volunteering experience?
All the logistics were arranged by VSO – I just had to get my jabs, pack, and get myself to the airport! We went on a training weekend before we left as well, and were sent a huge amount of documents to read through, but that’s about it. We also had to fundraise £800 to support the project.
What are the things you enjoyed the most & least about the volunteering experience / experiences?
I just love learning about different cultures and getting to know people from so many different walks of life. It really opens my eyes up to the world. Volunteering really lets you experience the best in people.
Sometimes you can feel a bit helpless as a volunteer – you’re there to try solve a few problems but soon discover that there are thousands more that need addressing too. It’s hard when you’re not able to help everyone or every cause you encounter.
What has the volunteering experiences taught you?
I’ve learnt that change takes time; it’s impossible to go into a community for a few months and expect it to be transformed for the better in this time. Global change is a long-term goal that mainly consists of baby steps, but it’s absolutely worth doing. I’ve also learnt that there’s a lot more that unites us than divides us.
Do you have any advise for people wanting to do volunteering?
Be careful of falling into the trap of voluntourism; research the company well to make sure that the work they want you to do has an impact and is sustainable. Short term projects that last just a week or two are unlikely to have much impact unless you already have the skills they require or the work is very basic and requires no training.
Did you experience anything you did not like about the volunteering experiences you had?
I’ve been very lucky and had almost all positive experiences. The language barrier can be a big problem – you want to speak directly to the people you meet but you have to rely on someone else and things get oversimplified or lost in translation. It makes it harder to connect, but certainly not impossible. The best thing is to be patient and rely on more than just words; I made a lot of friends through dancing!
Please share any blog posts you have on your volunteering experience.
In this blog post I’ve put together a series of portraits of the people I met whilst volunteering:
How do you see the future of volunteering?
I see a great future for volunteering; people love travelling more than ever and I believe we are more globally conscious than ever, too. So long as we choose our projects wisely and contribute to honest, meaningful projects I think the sector will continue to thrive.
What two or three thing are most important to you in a volunteering role?
Being adaptable (you never know what kind of situations you’ll find yourself in or what you’ll and up doing), openminded, and not taking yourself too seriously!
What interests you most about volunteer work?
I like the idea of giving back to the countries I visit and learning about them on a deeper and more meaningful level.
What experience / qualifications / skills or other do you have that will make you successful in this volunteering role or roles?
Except from being a photographer my only skill/experience is that I’ve been on many other volunteer projects and know what to expect and have shown that I’m able to work in such challenging conditions.
What tasks / duties did you have to do as a volunteer?
I was a Team Leader in my last project. I oversaw the work of 12 volunteers, created our plan of action and made sure it was implemented each day. Our work was split into three areas – Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (spreading awareness about these issues), Livelihoods (developing the businesses of local entrepreneurs) and Governance (strengthening the relationship between the local government and community). I can’t lie – it was very hard work!
Describe your average day whilst volunteering.
We started work at 9.30am, beginning with a team meeting in our little office. We’d go through the day’s plan and any problems or ideas we had. Our team would then split into their three groups and generally go off into the community to get stuck in, or stay in the office to plan, write reports, call up various people, and so on. We’d go back to our host homes for lunch around 1-2.30pm, then continue work until 5pm.
How much time did you have to volunteer for?
In this project we worked from 9.30-5pm six days a week.
Did the volunteer organisation help with any things of the following? (accommodation / meals / travel costs / training)
The great thing about this project was the volunteers were very well looked after; we were placed in host homes who cooked all our meals for us, we got a small allowance each month and our travel expenses were reimbursed. We had training both in the UK and in Bangladesh before the project started. We also had a Project Officer from a local NGO who would help us with all our day-to-day work and problems, as well as a Project Co-ordinator.
What were your personal goals for this experience / experiences ? (did you achieve them?)
I simply wanted to make a meaningful contribution to a community and I feel that in some small way I and my team did.
Do you have any future volunteering experiences that you are planning to do? If so where, what, when?
I’ve made it a personal goal of mine to do a volunteer project every year, and, if possible, a project in every country I visit! The UK charity Raleigh do some great mid-term projects, which I’m looking into, but I’ll look to do smaller scale work as well – even something as simple as a litter pick is still making a positive contribution.[amazon_link asins=’0852650671,1861441339,1349303143,1743216890,0310519179,1786572133,1841624098,0521679745,1741045479,185733695X’ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’digitaltrav0b-20′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’21a78ef0-464f-11e8-9da5-edc251feeb80′]
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