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Volunteering as a family

Volunteering in another country provides unique opportunities to learn more about different cultures, develop new skills and language aptitude, and experience the power of philanthropy and service firsthand. With benefits like these, it should come as no surprise that many people are seeking ways to share these opportunities with their families.

However, given the nature of many international volunteer projects, finding one that is a good fit for you and your family can be a bit tricky. Here are some tips and suggestions for finding the right opportunity for your family:

Time for a family meeting

Just like every other volunteer, your family needs to assess their motivations for and interests in volunteering abroad. Joss Elam, Partnerships Manager at Cross-Cultural Solutions, advises parents to actively involve their children in the decision-making process, ensuring that their international volunteerism experience is truly a family-wide effort.

Ask each member of the family what they hope to gain, contribute, and experience. What types of projects are most interesting? What sounds like fun? What sounds difficult? What kinds of projects are most appropriate for all members of the family—both in terms of levels of physical activity and emotional maturity? Keep in mind that, while many international volunteers want to get involved in some of the most challenging and economically depressed areas of the world, it's important to consider if a project or environment might be too intense or overwhelming for a child to understand.

Going with a program or going on your own?

Next step is to determine if your family will go abroad with a volunteer-sending organization or independently. While a volunteer-sending organization or program might be better equipped to provide appropriate service opportunities and support the needs of your family abroad, they can also sometimes be cost-prohibitive. Check out our list of pros and cons to help make your decision on whether to go independently or with a volunteer-sending organization or program.

Research, research, research

Whether you've decided to go with a volunteer-sending organization or want to plan your own volunteer abroad experience, you'll need to do a fair amount of research. Read our suggested steps for researching volunteer-sending organizations or finding independent opportunities abroad, tailoring your search to the interests and needs of your family. Also, once you've identified a few potential programs or opportunities, check out our list of questions to ask; again, be sure to tailor your inquiries to the criteria appropriate for your family. For example, what vaccinations are recommended for children traveling to that part of the world? What standard family food items or supplies might you be unable to find there? Will the housing situation work for your family? Has the organization placed or accepted family volunteers before? Is there a minimum age requirement for volunteers? Finally, be sure to talk to former family volunteers to learn more about their on-the-ground experiences.

Volunteering abroad as a family can be a rewarding intergenerational opportunity to bond, learn, and grow together. Determining what the family as a whole would like to do and then researching opportunities to find the right fit will help to ensure a positive experience for everyone from the youngest to oldest member.

To learn more about the benefits of volunteering as a family, consider reading these two articles: