Get Involved Get Involved : Volunteer for a Cause Hannah Skvarla

A picture from my trip to East Africa in 2007.

In 2007, my family began the yearlong process to adopt my little brother and sister from Ethiopia. For Thanksgiving, we took a trip to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to meet my siblings, planning to return when the court proceedings were completed. At that time I promised my sister that I would come back for a visit as soon as possible.

In January 2008, I returned to Ethiopia with my friend Lyla. We spent our time there volunteering at a children’s orphanage, home to about 150 babies and children. We had an incredible time and our days were full: we played sports, made friendship bracelets, answered questions about life in America, took silly photos, and held and fed babies.

When searching for a cause, it is important to find a cause you are passionate about. When selecting a volunteer opportunity, it is important to find something you enjoy doing. When identifying a volunteer position consider how it works with your schedule. Volunteering is incredibly rewarding and can easily become part of your life each week.

There are many great volunteer opportunities with children (throughout the US) including: 826 NationalCASA, and Girls Inc.

What inspires you to volunteer?

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  1. When I volunteered back in 2008 with my friend Hannah it not only opened so many opportunities for me but it changed my life in incredible ways. Hannah’s and my family were always about giving back. We volunteered at soup kitchens, boys and girls clubs, and homes for the elderly but it was not until I met the kids at the orphanage in Ethiopia that I became truly inspired to want to make a difference.

    Sometimes it takes stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring a new place, a new culture, and new people to figure out where your passion lies. For me it was meeting the kids in Ethiopia and seeing their faces light up when we would challenge them to a soccer game, or swap stories about our customs, and or the way we do things in America. The kids made such an impact on my life that I continue to keep in touch with them as often as possible. Some have since been adopted and we keep in touch via facebook. Some I communicate with using the old snail mail method, but there is nothing that I look forward to more than hearing from them. They have made a lasting impression on the way I live my everyday life as I feel like we made on theirs. The kids got insight into life abroad as well as the feeling of being needed. They taught us how to cook, how to braid hair, and we did our best to make them feel special as a whole but more important individually. We gave them a chance to share, to feel loved by strangers, and to know what it’s like to be a part of a community even if there is an entire ocean separating us.

    I strongly encourage everyone to volunteer and there is no better place than to start in your own backyard. If you do have the desire to explore a new city, a new state, and or a new country then I can’t say enough positive things about why you should get out there and go for it.
    Although I believe it is necessary to take extra precaution when traveling (regardless, if you are volunteering or not). Enjoy every step of the way because there is no better feeling then giving back.

  2. I currently volunteer in Cambodia and have been here for about a year. I think volunteering is a wonderful thing and enriches the lives of the volunteer as well as the people they work with. But I think it’s important, especially when volunteering in a developing country, to always be aware of the impact you have.

    There are a lot of volunteers who come to Cambodia for very short periods of time to volunteer in orphanages. The problem is, they don’t really think about the impact on the children. Think about it, is it really healthy for children to have so many strangers coming into their home for very short periods of time? Children are forced to make attachments with stranger after stranger after stranger. It’s very unhealthy. It can also be very unsafe as most often the volunteers do not undergo security checks.

    I would recommend that if you do volunteer, do it through a reputable agency. I volunteer with an Australian government program (I’m Australian, obviously). Think hard about the impact you will have. Are you only there for a few weeks? Then maybe volunteering is not for you. Sometimes you will make a better impact by being a respectful and ethical tourist.

    And people often forget about volunteering at home! I have worked in child protection and we were desperate for volunteer mentors for young people. But overseas volunteering seems more fun.

    Have a look at this great campaign by Friends International about orphanage tourism: http://www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting/

  3. Sarah,
    It sounds like you have found some amazing places to volunteer!
    Keep us posted on a your trip to Malawi :)

  4. I volunteer as a Brownie leader (UK Girl Scouts), a peer supporter for kids with learning disabilities and as a camp counsellor for kids suffering from cancer. I’m also going to Malawi in the Summer to do some health promotion work and volunteer in a nursery. I looooooooooove giving that wee bit to help people who maybe aren’t as fortunate as I am. Plus I genuinely have the best time doing it :)

  5. I volunteered on a couple trips to Kenya. It was awesome! Learning their culture was fascinating, and I still crave japati (flat bread). mmm…

    What inspires me to volunteer? I love helping people. Think of all the people who have helped you. How could you not want to pass that on to others? :)

    • Hi Hannah!
      Woot! Another japati fan!
      My trips were all over. We traveled through a bunch of cities in Western Kenya, everywhere from slums in Nairobi to beautiful, primitive Taraguiti. They were awesome trips!

    • Erin,
      That’s awesome! Where did you volunteer in Kenya?
      I too love helping people and it makes volunteering a great experience.
      PS I also love japati!