1. DO know yourself.
One of the best ways to prepare yourself is by doing a little bit of volunteering at home. This way you can really hone down on the issues that are important to you: conservation and sustainability, education, public health, community development, animal care and rescue. Once you have an idea of what area of volunteering you would like to pursue, assess your situation: how much time to offer, what can you afford, are there any sort of pre-requisites to your volunteering environment. For example, when volunteering in some places you may not be privy to 24 hour electricity or western-style bathrooms. Are you ready to sleep in a hut or a mat on the floor instead of a bed?
2. DON'T wait for a group.
This is an adventure you can start today. These organizations want and need your time, skills, and energy. Many times waiting for a group will cause you to miss out on an opportunity all together. We often meet people along the way who have chose to do it on their own as well. I met a Korean Jewish girl who lived in Mexico while volunteering with elephants in Thailand. We had both chosen to come there alone with equal dedication to the project, and forged a close friendship during our time there.
3. DO stay positive.
We often may find ourselves in situations of hardship. We witness people who had some pretty bad cards dealt to them. Try not to get caught up in the despair. Find solace in the positive; a child's smile, a grateful mother, a dog's kiss. Change often doesn't come over night, but the positive actions of volunteers influence people's decisions and actions for the future.
4. DON'T judge what has or hasn't happened.
These organizations are working under real-world limitations. Just because a project you implemented in your home town was successful, does not mean that it will be successful here. Social, political, and environmental situations differ from community to community.
5. DO be considerate and flexible.
Show up on time and be prepared to work. Many of these organizations have work hard to establish a positive reputation within the community. Being late or inconsiderate can reflect poorly on the organization, ultimately undoing a lot of hard work. Complete your duties like you would at any other job. With an open mind, you may find yourself enjoying something you never thought you would have.
6. DON'T give false hopes or promises or speak on other people's behalf.
Once again, these people are working under real-world limitations. Promising something on behalf of an organization can damage its credibility and influence. Likewise, don't publicize other people's pains or mistakes. Not everyone is ready to share their story. Even if someone chose to share their story with you, it does not mean they are ready to share their story with the world. Be a person one can go to in confidence. In a day like today, where we can update our blogs every hour, we should resist the urge on detailing other people's private lives online. What you say may negatively have an effect on a person's standing within their own community. Be careful with sharing stories about children, and stay away from sharing stories about the traumatic experiences of children . If you are going to share an anecdote, make sure you ensure that the child is protected and has anonymity.
7. DO take care of yourself.
We volunteer because we care. Often times, we dedicate so much of mental and physical energy, we forget about our own well-being. If you find yourself mentally exhausted- journal or talk to someone. Don't forget to eat and drink plenty of water. Be satisfied with your work, and have fun.