Your volunteer story
A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step - preparing to volunteer
For many AVI volunteers, the journey to becoming a volunteer is actually longer than the two year assignment itself.
In fact, 60 per cent of AVI applicants have known about AVI for two or more years before they apply.
Above right: Cheryl Molloy volunteering in Vanuatu. Photo: Debra Plueckhahn.
The guide we've prepared is presented in stages to reflect the different levels you may reach on your journey to volunteer.
Whether you're ready to get informed, get involved or get crackin', there's plenty to learn before you get to the application stage.
It's all in the preparation
Every long-term international volunteering assignment requires preparation - and lots of it.
At AVI, we think it's important to consider how to volunteer before you think about where.
Here are some tips to help you prepare:
Do your research
Find a volunteer sending agency suited to your skills, experience, interests and one that supports your philosopy / approach to sustainable development.
You can find out more about AVI's approach to development here.
You may also like to explore other organisations involved in International Development through the Australian Council for International Develoment - ACFID or through the portal site Australian Development Gateway where current international opportunities will be advertised and information shared.
Get to know yourself
Do you have the personal competencies required to become a volunteer? You'll need to possess flexibility, resilience and cross-cultural awareness.
Click to read more about personal competencies.
If AVI is your chosen agency
Get to know the recruitment process and decide whether you're ready for it. Do your planning as you would with any employment opportunity. It's a rigorous process that generally takes more than five months from start to departure.
Click to read more about the recruitment process.
Fitting back into Australian life
It's worth thinking in advance how you will fit back in Australia after a volunteer assignment. Volunteers spend significant time away from friends, family, and, in some cases, partners. Volunteers leave behind houses, jobs, and a comfortable routine. In many cases, moving on to new things is part of the appeal of a volunteer assignment, but successful volunteers take care of what they leave behind. Careful planning before an assignment can keep your support system in place, ensure you have a life to return to at the end of an assignment, and help you focus on your work in a developing country context.
Where would you like to work?
Finally, look at countries where you might like to work. Explore their history and what makes the place special. Look for books or documentaries that tell stories from the grass-roots level. Then, think about how you might fit in.
Looking after yourself
How does your body respond to stress? Do you wilt in the heat? And can you really eat that?
Most volunteers know that a volunteer assignment will test their professional skills and challenge their expectations. Fewer realise how much it will challenge them physically and emotionally.
Volunteers work in remote areas with more limited diets and often extreme weather. Keeping an eye on your health and fitness can ensure that you enter a new environment prepared.
While AVI requires health checks and provides vaccinations and insurance, an ounce of prevention, a dose of exercise and ample knowledge on the volunteer's part makes for a happier and healthier experience.
Broaden your perspective and change your routine
International volunteering is a fantastic opportunity to change the way you see the world.
Volunteers bring incredible skills to their assignments, but they also work with community partners according to community priorities. The work AVI asks volunteers to do balance volunteer talents with local knowledge. Volunteers learn to see their community the way their colleagues see it, and this doesn't necessarily happen easily or overnight. It is, however, a skill you can practice like any other.
Consider volunteering at home first
Volunteer closer to home, especially with Australian organisations that engage in the issues you are passionate about, and start to change the way you see the world.
Interested working with refugees? Why not work with asylum seekers and other migrants? Want to take your skills as an educator to somewhere new? Try teaching underserved communities in your own backyard. Fascinated by Timor-Leste? Seek out a Friends of Timor group or association. Starting local gives you experience working at the pace of community organisations.
Preparing grant proposals, other fund-raising and donor liaison are skills often requested by Host Organisations. Experience gained as a volunteer with your favourite NGO in Australia will greatly strengthen your applications.
Mentoring: a worthwhile step
Consider mentoring locally in Australia. Supporting people in the achievement of their own goals is a big part of capacity development needed as a skilled volunteer. In order to offer the right support, volunteers first need to gain the trust of their colleagues by building relationships before they can share skills.
Mentoring is a powerful tool for change, a challenging process, and another way to see the world through a different lens. Many organisations in Australia offer the opportunity to make a personal connection by exchanging stories, experiences, and skills with a diverse range of people. Look up community-based organisations in your neighbourhood.
Je ne parle pas le français?
Learning a new language gives you access to facets of a place and culture that are impossible otherwise. Even if you don't know where you'd like to volunteer, language learning stretches the brain and expands your perspective.
Can you look after yourself and others?
A current First Aid Certificate - Apply First Aid, needed by all AVID program volunteers before departure. Enrol through the Australian Red Cross or St John Ambulance.
Become an expert on capacity development
As you get closer to committing to an assignment, you might also consider taking an extra step to make you that much more valuable to your community partner. Past volunteers have taken TAFE courses in workplace training or working cross-culturally adding new skills to their toolkit.
Expand your network
Volunteering is a whole of community effort. Each volunteer relies on a support network of friends, family and colleagues in addition to the local community they are working with and AVI. Before applying to volunteer, it's vital to expand and nurture those networks. Tell your friends about volunteering explain your motivations and find ways to share the spirit of volunteering.
Stay tuned with AVI's eNewsletter
Stay in touch with AVI for new assignments to be advertised via our monthly eNewsletter, you will be the first to hear as updates become available.
Click here to subscribe to the eNewsletter
We also encourage you to call our recruitment team to discuss your skills and interests even before assignments are advertised. Contact details for our recruiters can be found below.
Make it happen - volunteer opportunities
- PACTAM and projects assignments will be advertised as we receive requests.
- Australian Volunteers program assignments, with requests for volunteers from many different professions will be advertised every three months.
- Australian Volunteers program assignments that are urgent or hard to fill will be open for applications at other times.
View the dates of the next recruitment round.
Handy tip: remember to browse the occupation sector pages on the left for information on assignments that relate to your interest and skills.
Sign up to receive our quarterly alerts here.
Thank you for considering AVI's guide when preparing for your volunteer journey - we hope the information has helped advance your thinking and provided clear steps in preparing on your volunteer journey.
If you have any questions or would like us to elaborate on any of the topics covered above, please call our recruitment team on 1800 331 292.