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Voluntary Gains

If you are looking for a career shift or simply boost your resume, overseas volunteering can be a good option.

Chandralekha Mukerji        Print Edition: December 2010

Dipak Prasad, 35, wasn't happy with his threeyear-old job at the school for visually impaired children in Delhi. While he enjoyed teaching, he was frustrated that he couldn't implement modern methods of instruction. He pined to shift to the development sector, so he posted his resume on an online job portal. This was nearly a year ago.

Today, he is volunteering in Vietnam, serving as an adviser-cumcurriculum planner for children with special needs. He is getting a stipend of Rs 20,000, besides free stay, medical insurance and several other perks. "The project will help me move to the career of my choice," says Prasad, who hopes to come back to India after two years (when the project is complete) and expand his line of work in keeping with his interests.

Prasad is not the only one smitten by the concept of overseas volunteering. A popular practice abroad, it is catching up in India, especially among freshers who want to kickstart their careers or experienced professionals who are looking for a career shift.

"The motivation for many volunteers is better job opportunities. The exposure adds to the experience and offers the leverage to negotiate better salaries," says Rahul Nainwal, director, iVolunteer Overseas, a joint initiative of MITRA and the UK-based Volunteer Services Overseas (VSO).

FLEXIBLE OPTIONS

The expanse for volunteering opportunities is wide, the fields virtually limitless. There is a turtle conservation project for marine biologists, construction placements for engineers and awareness campaigns for a communications professional.

You can choose from an array of causes and placements, which are available in flexible time frames. The longterm assignments demand a commitment of 1-2 years, but there are short projects, stretching from a few weeks to months. Though most openings are in Asia, South America and Africa, there are many in the developed world too. In fact, a Web search produces so many results that you are spoilt for choice.

PACKAGE PARTICULARS

The eligibility criteria are usually simple and include age, physical fitness and a graduation degree. However, the programmes offered by organisations such as the United Nations or the Red Cross Society have additional parameters. You may need a specific degree or work experience, even clear an interview. The advantage is that if you qualify for such projects, you get a stipend during the project tenure.

The downside is that most organisations charge a fee, which depends on the type of project, destination and duration. For instance, a two-week programme in Costa Rica, offered by the International Volunteer HQ, costs nearly Rs 34,000. If extended for a month, the same project costs Rs 53,000. So, the average cost is lesser for long-term projects.

A typical package includes food, accommodation, administrative charges and training cost. However, it is important to check the details and specific inclusions. Also, make sure to find out about other costs like air fare, visa, insurance and immunisation.

"One must read the placement document to know more about the assignment before accepting it," says Dr Falguni Basu, who is volunteering at the health ministry in Vanuatu, a small nation near Australia.

The International Volunteer Programs Association's guidance on their Website is must-read, as are portals like volunteerabroad.com and vaops.com, which help filter projects as per your needs.

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