Looking for a volunteer opportunity that will allow you to make a real difference in the life of a child? One that will let you connect with and influence young people from diverse backgrounds while sharing your passions and interests? Volunteering abroad in youth development may be the perfect fit for you. From coaching sports to teaching classes and sharing arts curricula to helping to create small businesses, youth development projects allow volunteers to share their talents and abilities with kids, while serving as role models and developing meaningful relationships along the way.
Why Volunteer Abroad
There are few things more rewarding than seeing the joy on a child’s face after they have accomplished a new goal or knowing that you in some way contributed to a child achieving success. Knowing that you helped a shy child overcome stage fright through dance or resolve conflict with their peers through baseball can provide you with tremendous pride in having helped foster essential life skills in young people through fun, engaging activities.
Youth development projects use thoughtful, interactive activities to engage kids with their peers, and caring adult role models to teach skills that are essential for success in school and in life. Programs dedicated to youth help them build leadership and problem-solving skills, promote teamwork and communication, and encourage the development of a positive attitude and strong work ethic. Volunteering in youth development projects abroad will provide you with the opportunity to be a caring adult in a child’s life when they might not have someone to fill in those shoes, helping them to realize their potential, create attainable goals, and achieve success along the way.
Providing this type of developmental support abroad, particularly in rural areas that may not have access to many resources, helps to instill important values in kids who may grow up to become leaders, working to make widespread improvements in their community. In this way, youth development projects are especially impactful in small, remote villages, where they can serve as catalysts for future community development and change.
When selecting a location for your youth development volunteer program, you may want to consider ways you can combine a location’s economic and/or social needs with your own passions and skills to create lasting change.
South Africa is home to the highest proportion of adults living with HIV; just over 19 percent of the country’s adult population is infected with HIV. It is estimated that there are over 3.7 million orphaned children in the country, over half of which resulted from deaths due to this devastating disease. Many youth development programs in South Africa devote themselves to the care and wellbeing of orphaned children, fostering safe spaces that promote independence and resiliency in the face of adversity.
With hundreds of gangs located among its largest cities, youth development projects in Colombia are vital to the safety and wellbeing of the country’s young people too. Youth development programs in Colombia often focus on academic preparation, language instruction, and technological literacy. Volunteers can help young people develop confidence in their schoolwork, as well a sense of responsibility, while promoting the value of education and staying in school, all of which contribute to lower dropout rates and levels of gang involvement.
In India, a country where the literacy rate for women hovers around 65 percent, women’s empowerment projects are key to building young women’s self-esteem and independence, and promoting the importance of education for women. Youth development projects in India range from providing childcare so teen mothers so they can focus on their studies to discussion groups on employment opportunities, education, and women’s rights.
Youth Development Projects Abroad
Youth development projects abroad are as diverse in scope as the volunteers who contribute to them. Those who want to volunteer in youth development abroad can, therefore, search through projects based on their own interests and easily find a placement that is right for them.
If soccer is your thing, you can seek community teams seeking to improve their skills, while cultivating leadership skills and promoting teamwork. If you prefer the arts, check out opportunities to work with after-school programs ranging from music to painting to performing arts, through which youth can simultaneously develop their sense of self-expression and communication skills. If gardening is more your niche look for programs that teach young people about sustainable gardening, either for their own benefit or to sell for profit, while learning about entrepreneurship through the creation of a small business.
Regardless of the type of youth development project you pursue, previous experience working with children and teens will most likely come in handy, although it may not be required. However, obviously there are exceptions; youth participants will most definitely get more out of a photography class taught by an avid photographer (even if a non-professional), than from someone who has never picked up a camera. Yet, it should be noted that passion goes a long way in contributing meaningfully to a youth development program abroad. Don’t shy away from projects that might seem slightly out of your comfort zone, but do use your better judgment when considering which youth development project is right for you.
Due to the diverse nature of youth development projects, volunteer placements can range from a few days to several months, or even year-long volunteer positions: the length of your stay will vary depending on the type of project in which you engage. That said, chances are, the more time you have to spend in your placement, the closer you will become with participants, and the deeper impact you will have.
Benefits & Challenges
The absolute best thing about volunteering for a youth development project is getting to make a difference in the life of a child. That’s what makes volunteer programs in youth development so popular!
Additionally, volunteering with youth development projects can be beneficial for your own future employment opportunities. These types of projects provide volunteers with valuable experience working with youth in professional settings, especially in a mentorship role, which can translate well to resumes. If you aspire to advance your career in a given field, volunteering in youth development will boost your credentials by showcasing your talents as a coach, teacher, workshop facilitator, entrepreneur, etc.
However, with youth development projects, you won’t always see the fruits of your labor. Unlike construction volunteer projects which allow you to watch your work come to life, your impact on program participants may not necessarily be as immediate or as visible. With some kids, you will be able to see that you are making a difference in their lives right away – through their smiles, the way they interact with you, and the way they may use what you have taught them in your presence. With other kids, you might not see the difference while you are there, but your impact on their lives will most likely be felt long after you’re gone.
Many of these kids come from challenging backgrounds and living environments. It can be difficult to see their living conditions. You might doubt yourself and your contributions, eventually concluding “I’m JUST coaching basketball, maybe I should be building a school or teaching a class.” While it is great if your experience springboards you to consider other volunteer opportunities, it is important to recognize the immense value of youth development projects. Many of these kids may not have strong role models in their lives. Your contribution and teachings can go a long way to providing them with a positive example of the skills they can develop in a given area, and the type of person they may aspire to be.
Youth development opportunities allow volunteers to interact and connect with kids in meaningful ways. If you’re looking for a way to impact young people’s lives while having fun and sharing your unique talents, abilities, and passions, a youth development volunteer position abroad may be the perfect opportunity for you.