How to find a meaningful volunteering project?

Local NGO consisting of three people in rural Lwengo area in Uganda without any funding. Working with village women who are making recycled paper beads and turning them into jewellery pieces. A Lithuanian girl living in The Netherlands quits her corporate job and joins them to help create a business out of this. Who could ever think I will be doing this? And as many of you also ask me “How did you find them?” 

When I started to think about my volunteering dream, I didn’t have a full fledged idea of what I wanted. I knew I wanted to go to Africa for a couple of months and I wanted to use my business knowledge and experience. That’s it. This didn’t bother me too much, I thought Mr. Google would help me out. He is smart and, in general, I trust him. 

I started by simply visiting and entering the keywords “Volunteering Africa”. Good news! There is lots of content and many opportunities to volunteer. I created a pre-selection of cool projects in Africa by doing a quick scan of the headlines and more detailed project descriptions. After a deep dive of at least 20 projects I didn’t find anything suitable for me. They all had cool pictures and very appealing descriptions, but it wasn’t not for me. Why? The core reason being there was too much emphasis on volunteerism rather than true volunteering.

Exploring the wealth of information Google has to offer.
Exploring the wealth of information Google has to offer.

You will live in a beautiful local community with friendly people. You will have lots of time to travel around, meet local people and enjoy your time. Your day will start at 09:00am with breakfast, then you will head to your volunteering location. You will work for a few hours, then have lunch and come back to your work for another few hours. Your working day will be finished around 3:30pm, where you will have spare time to interact with other volunteers. This will cost you around US100-200$ per week. Please do read the experiences of other volunteers and how they experienced this.

Sounds cool but really? You call it a working day? People who have worked with me in the past are probably now laughing. Yeah, sure Agne working only for few hours a day. Reading these “projects” almost scared me away from my volunteering desire. At that point of time I realized I needed to change my search strategy.

Then I started to simply short-list local NGOs doing great stuff locally and the ones I got from my friends’ recommendations. I have contacted over 20 organisations but didn’t find too much success. It was either they don’t have such short-term volunteer programs or they simply didn’t reply me back. 

I got bit anxious and impatient, so I guess Mr. Google with its AI solutions read my brain and decided to introduce me to A platform designed for people like me, impatient, bit busy but on the lookout for meaningful volunteering opportunities.

I liked them! They pre-select local and international NGOs or social enterprises who are in need of volunteers. They even have their own name for it “experteering”, as they are focused on matching professionals who are willing to give their expertise to a local organization seeking for it. On top of that they have a community of like-minded people in place who already have expterteer’ed before or are also searching. This gave me the opportunity to connect with many like-minded people,  making me feel even better that it’s not just me who is swapping the corporate life. 

I immediately dived deep into their platform to search for cool projects. It’s very simple to use and works almost like a job search portal. I found three projects where I felt I could contribute the most and organized introduction calls with their representatives. One was for a training and education center in Cameroon, another one for cosmetics company in Uganda’s capital Kampala and the third for Integrated Villages in rural Lwengo Uganda area. 

Uganda is famous for its (endangered) mountain Gorilla’s.

After talking to three passionate representatives it was very difficult to choose the project but I decided to go for my gut-feel. I felt like living in a rural Uganda, working directly with women supported by a local NGO consisting of three people who don’t have any funding. In LEAN terms we call it a true gemba experience. The decision was made. Hello Uganda!

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