Is volunteering abroad for YOU?

I recently answered a series of questions about volunteering abroad for an article geared towards prospective volunteers and wanted to share the interview with the Edge of Seven community.  If you are considering international service, read on.

1. What qualities do successful volunteers generally possess?

Volunteers have to be self-motivated, able communicators, and extremely flexible.

2. What skills do you expect volunteers to have before arriving?

We are currently building a dorm that will house 40 girls who will be attending higher secondary school in the district headquarters of the Everest Region of Nepal.  During this project, we are building the hostel from the ground up.  Volunteers will be digging, carrying rocks, bending rebar, and mixing batches of cement by hand.  They will be assisting the skilled laborers and each morning, roles will be assigned to each volunteer based on their interests and skill set.  Volunteers do not have to have any particular skills or experience – just a willingness to learn.

3. What is the ideal length of time for a volunteer to spend with your organization?

For our group projects, volunteers are supporting infrastructure projects in the field and can join us for a minimum of two weeks.  We hope to make a measurable difference in the communities we serve with a chain of dedicated volunteers over time.  For our individual projects, the minimum time commitment is one month but we encourage volunteers to invest 3-6 months, if possible.  In these projects, volunteers are working at the organizational level and their value is closely linked to the length of their commitment.

4. How many hours per week do you expect your volunteers to work?

We expect volunteers to work 40-50 hours per week.  I spent five months conducting research in Asia before launching Edge of Seven and the number one complaint from active volunteers was that they did not feel useful.  If people want to sightsee, they should go on vacation.  If they’d like to work hard, embrace living like a local in a developing country, and contribute in a meaningful way, they should sign up for an Edge of Seven project. 

5. What can a volunteer hope to learn from helping out on your project?

This is a life-changing experience and alters your perspective about the world.  After one of our projects, volunteers can expect to understand the challenges that face rural villages in developing countries because they will have experienced them firsthand.  They will know what it’s like to live without electricity, the struggle in walking two miles for water, the ache from physical exhaustion, and understand why education is a luxury in many parts of the world.  We hope that this realization will ignite a passion within them to advocate for global social change.

6. How many volunteers do you have at one time?

An ideal group size on any one project is 10-15 volunteers.  Since our volunteers live with host families, we like to cap our groups around 15 people.

7. Do you allow couples and families to volunteer?

Of course!  We love couples and families!  My father joined me in Nepal last summer and it was an unparalleled bonding experience for us.  I feel grateful every day that I was able to share that transformative experience with him.

8. When, and if, a volunteer is having difficulties, what are the typical causes? (for example: lack of interest, homesickness, etc)

We push volunteers to the edge, hence our name.  As we say on our website, “we believe that real discovery happens when we leave our comfort zones.”  So, we’ll be the first to say nothing about our adventures is comfortable.  Volunteers are using squat toilets, “showering” with a bucket of water, eating rice and vegetables twice a day, and working harder than they have in their life.  In our pre-departure materials, we set expectations by saying that “living conditions will be extremely basic so volunteers who participate are expected to work hard and embrace living Nepali style for a few short weeks.”  Our volunteers typically do not complain because they realize that whatever their difficulties (homesickness, exhaustion, lack of food variety), they are temporary.  It’s difficult to complain about being tired when you see an 80 year old woman carrying a 20 pound load of stones up a mountain.

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