These pieces of advice were written by a long term volunteer in the Balkans. Very useful info for any kind of voluntary commitment, maybe more so if it involves travelling.
First, there are a few questions to ask yourself: Think twice before getting involved; be aware and clear of your own motivation and expectations.
* you are not going to stop the war in a few weeks.
* can you describe your motivation without using the word help? if not, define who you want to help: others? yourself? the human race? your own ego?
* are you running away from your personal troubles in your own life, by packing your bags and … ? Only you can asnwer this.
* do you dream of yourself as a hero once you are back home?
* even subconsciously, do you think that you are more clever, educated and ‘civilised’ than those people ‘over there? Do you plan to go and tell them what to do?
* did you practise conflict resolution and mediation so that you now dream about going there and doing workshops on 9 steps on how to solve conflict?
* do you think of it as a very good line in your c.v.?
* do you have some side agenda of your own? for example, to use this experience for a campaign, for research?
*are you aware of your own prejudices about people from different cultures and different countries? do you have a coping mechanism to deal with that?
These are so many questions to ask yourselves. As much as you prepare yourself, you are never going to be prepared. This list of questions is not meant to stop you from applying. It is more for you to think and be aware of it. Motivations are different from person to person. That is ok. But not if you are hiding your own motivations from even yourself, or are even not aware of them. Why do I write this black story? I find it important for the sake of the project, for the people from the region, for your own sake. There is also an excellent, positive part of the story. The project is a place to learn, to grow, to feel useful and creative and constructive. It is a place to make friends, to do and experience something great. It can change your life attitudes and paths. Small steps, grassroots initiatives, even though small are of extreme importance.
Burnout – again, written by a long term volunteer, and gathered in workshops about long-time and/or full-time volunteering. I am only writing the ‘hints’, tricks to avoid burnout and other mental unrests.
talk – write. to friends, to a diary…
take a free day – and don’t spend it talking about the project!
make contacts outside the project.
unwind, listen to your favourite music
allow yourself to enjoy crap tv and crap reading, whatever you used to enjoy before getting involved in the project