Living in our modern world with a disability is not easy. There are many barriers that prevent people from attaining a happy and prosperous life. Volunteers are crucial to bettering the lives of people with disabilities, breaking down barriers, and giving them the opportunities they deserve. Volunteer work can be done in a variety of ways, but human contact and face to face time with people with disabilities is the most important step to understanding their situation. Volunteering with people with disabilities abroad is a great way to learn more about the lives of people with disabilities and help make a difference.
Why Volunteer Abroad
Giving to others who are less fortunate is a rewarding experience regardless of where and when you do it. Since people with disabilities have always been at a disadvantage in almost all cultures, they have always needed to have the most courage and support from kind and generous hearts. Not only will you be helping people with disabilities, you will also be learning how to have inner strength to overcome tough obstacles in life. Most individuals who volunteer with people with disabilities focus on helping them gain confidence, progress and meet their goals, and to grow as individuals. Those interested in volunteering with people with disabilities should consider themselves to be warm, nurturing, friendly, and patient.
The experience of disabilities is not exclusive to certain countries or populations of people; but that does not mean, unfortunately, that disabilities have become “normal” and easy to manage. Many societies have stigmas against people with disabilities or lack funds, education, and resources to help support those in need of physical, mental, or emotional assistance in their daily lives. The silver lining in the field of disabilities is that volunteers can choose to go to a variety of places and work with a range of ages. Here are some of the top locations to volunteer abroad with people with disabilities:
Cambodia is a country where physical disabilities are high due to the prevalence of stray, active landmines. There also tends to be a stigma about people with disabilities in Cambodia, so they are often seen as being weak and untrustworthy. While it is safe to volunteer in Cambodia currently, its past history of civil wars has not helped its people grow or have access to education and healthcare. Volunteers who decide to work with people with disabilities in Cambodia will find they are often assisting individuals who have been physically affected by the war (such as amputees), by working with them on mobility and morale improvement exercises.
Morocco is another country where stigmas about people with disabilities (mental and physical) are quite common. There is a lack of community support, as well as government support, so volunteers are highly sought-after to work with children and young adults with disabilities to help improve their conditions and day to day life. Volunteers can expect to help with a variety of programs, ranging from teaching English to simply playing with the children and offering support and friendship.
Romania is yet another location that is suffering from lack of support by its government and communities. Volunteers can expect to work with children and young people outside of classrooms to simply help motivate them in their daily lives. You may do so by planning educational activities and games while also working as a counselor if they need emotional support.
Programs & Placements
There are no particularly pressing projects or placements related to working with individuals with disabilities, as volunteers are urgently needed to help individuals with all types of disabilities in all different situations. The two main differences in volunteer work comes down to working with people with either mental or physical disabilities, and every volunteer should know which type of disability they would be interested in learning about and helping with before embarking on their journey.
Working with people with mental disabilities requires volunteers to be knowledgeable of the different types of disorders and what makes each one unique (such as autism or down syndrome). Volunteers can expect to take on a nurturing and caring role in this area of the field, by acting as a mentor, caretaker, and teacher. Volunteers will be able to plan educational activities, share their interests or information from their home country, as well as help individuals become more independent. Volunteers usually do not need prior experience (just an interest in the country, population in need, and tasks at hand).
Volunteer work with people with physical disabilities varies slightly. You will still need to act as a counselor and offer emotional support, however many of these people will look to you to provide corporeal aid too. You will work with people to help improve their mobility and basic functions that they may have lost (or never had). Physiotherapy is a main focus of volunteer work focused on physical disabilities. Most organizations require volunteers to have prior physical therapy knowledge and/or experience (either educational or professional). Occupational therapists and physical therapists are prime candidates for these types of volunteer placements, and students majoring in these fields will find this type of volunteer experience invaluable.
Benefits & Challenges
- Touching Experience. Volunteering abroad with people with disabilities is a great way to give your time to others who are less fortunate. On a personal level, they will also teach you many things about their own lives and their country, which will be sure to warm your heart and stay with you for years to come.
- Keep An Open Mind. After returning to your home country, you will have gained new knowledge of what life can be like for people with disabilities. In a professional and educational setting, this will help you be more open to new and different ideas, and sensitive to others’ limitations or challenges.