The 9 biggest myths about international volunteering busted!

Through photo blogging, more than 30 volunteers have helped us bust the biggest myths about international volunteering.

They come from a range of sectors and backgrounds. They’re spread across 26 developing countries and share one thing in common, the Australian Volunteers Program.

In most cases, myths are flipped into positives, revealing the secret benefits of volunteering.

Myth #1 Not all volunteers dig wells and build houses

Emma, Fisheries Scientist

"Not all volunteering is dirty work that no one wants to do. I'm a Fisheries Scientist volunteering to develop the pearl farm industry in Vava'u, Tonga."
~ Go Emma!


Carly, Mental Health Service Mentor, Bhutan

"Not all volunteers are overseas teaching English, I'm volunteering as a Mental Health Services Mentor to improve suicide prevention services in Bhutan."
~ Keep up the great work Carly.


Ginny Stein, multi-media specialist and advisor, Vunausi Environment Conservation Organisation (VECO)

"Not all volunteer work is unskilled, I'm a multi-media specialist and advisor. I'm here with the tree planting team from the Vunausi Environment Conservation Organisation (VECO). This is climate change mitigation in action!"
~ Important work Ginny!


William McLean, Information Technology, Cambodia

"Not all volunteers are university students spending two weeks building houses overseas (although admittedly, I've done this too!). I've been an IT volunteer in Cambodia for the past year!"
~ Will's right, we all start somewhere.


Australian Volunteer Lesly, Business Development, Pt Kontrol Nyamuk Hijau (Mosquito Lady), Bali

”Not all volunteers work with children or animals; I'm helping technicians learn a new mobile phone tool."
~ Tackling mosquitos in Bali through technology. Love your work Lesly


Myth #2 Not all volunteers are young people 

Margaret Duffield, English Competency Mentor, IKIP Gunungsitoli, Indonesia.

"Not all volunteers are young people. I’m 65 and volunteering as an English Teacher Mentor at IKIP Gunungsitoli, Indonesia. Building relationships with staff and students from IKIP English Faculty."
~ Beautiful Margaret. 


Leslie Massey, Organisational Development Mentor, WASH Skills Development Organisation

"I'm Les, 72 years of age and still on the team. We're in Water, Health & Sanitation (WASH) building people skills, for better WASH practice." ~ Love your work Les.


Des Symes, Finance and Administration Mentor, Papua New Guinea

"Not all grey nomads are doing the Aussie lap. At 69, I came to Goroka, Papua New Guinea as a Finance Mentor and discovered my quilting skills could make re-usable hygiene pads"
~ Fantastic Des!⁠


Dr Aung Myint, mentor health mentor-trainer at PRADET, Timor-Leste

"At age 73, I'm on my fifth volunteer assignment. I'm mentoring and coaching in mental health care. My focus is sustainability and talent development."
~ Go Dr. Aung.


Chris Bothams, Organisational Development Mentor, Center for the Study of Humanitarian Law, at the Royal University of Law and Economics, Phnom Penh.

"Not all volunteers are young people. I am volunteering at age 64 as a mentor with the Center for the Study of Humanitarian Law in Phnom Penh."
~ Excellent Chris


Myth #3 - Not all volunteers stay for 2 weeks

Matt Whitwell, Structural Engineer, Samoan Government

“Not all volunteers come for 2 weeks to build one school. I’m working with the Samoan Government for 2 years developing the capacity of their building inspectors so all buildings are safe, now and in the future.”
~ Go Matt!


Francie Heartfield, Tourism Associations Training Mentor, Vanuatu

"Not all volunteering is short term, I’m volunteering in Vanuatu for 1 year as a Tourism Training Mentor." 
~ Go Francie! ⁠⠀


Myth #4 Not all volunteering is just about the work

Tonia Walker, Health Administration Officer, Mongolia

"Volunteering is to live a life less ordinary. I follow the anthropologist Margerat Meads concept of 'cultural immersion', and eat, socialise and holiday with my new Mongolian friends."
~ Fantastic Tonia!


Anneliesje Brown, Inclusive Education Teacher Trainer.

"It's all about relationships and partnerships.”
~ Spot on Anneliesje!⁠


Myth #5 Not all volunteers are the "experts"

Janet Brearly, Inclusive Education Mentor

“Not all volunteers are ‘the experts.’ I’m volunteering in inclusive education, adding specific expertise to that of highly skilled Samoans.” ~ Spot on Janet!⁠


Alyssa Medway, Social Work Technical Adviser with VOICE Cambodia

“Volunteers start by learning from their in-country counterparts.”
~ Too true Alyssa, she’s a Social Work Technical Adviser with VOICE Cambodia.


Annamarie Reyes, Communications Mentor, HIAM Health

"Volunteering as a Communications Mentor is not just about sharing my skills. It's about me learning the Timorese ways of working and how this Marunggi plant superfood can address malnutrition.”
~ Go Annamarie! ⁠⠀

Brett Simmonds, Front of House Teacher Trainer at KOTO in Hanoi

As a Front of House Teacher Trainer at KOTO in Hanoi, it's great to be a part of an amazing team of experienced and dedicated teachers and trainers.”
~ Great work Brett!


Sharon Stone, Career Development Mentor

"Not all volunteers work in isolation. As a Career Development Mentor, I'm working closely with a team of professionals at Ahopanililo Technical Institute in Tonga.“
~ Go Sharon!


Myth #6 Not all volunteers experience culture shock

Greg Cansdale, Org Dev Adviser, South East Asia Development

"As a volunteer not speaking the language doesn’t have to be a barrier, I’m an Organisational Development Advisor using language as a pathway to learning."
~ Love your work Greg!⁠



“Not all volunteers feel like a fish out of water! I am in my element as a volunteer grant writer with Step by Step Learning Centre, a school for young adults and children living with a disability, in Arusha, Tanzania."
~ Go Soo May! ⁠


Myth #7 None of our volunteers are on career breaks 

Dean Parrish, Chef Trainer, Yangon Bakehouse

Chef trainer Dean will be on Myanmar Masterchef, teaching a masterclass about how to make the great Aussie Pie. What a career high!
~ Good on you Dean.⁠


Naomi, Mycology Mentor, National Mushroom Centre, Bhutan

Naomi volunteered as a Mycology (Mushroom) Mentor at the National Mushroom Centre in Bhutan. Here she's awarded a certificate from the Royal Government of Bhutan for her contribution over 2.5 years.
~ Go Naomi!⁠


Myth #8 Not all volunteers are heroes 

Adam Spicer, Flight Paramedic, Tanzania

“Not all volunteers are out to change the world, as a volunteer Flight Paramedic in Tanzania, we do it one patient at a time."
~ Well said Adam!


Michael Brooke, Radio Advisor with Voice of Person Disability (VPD)

"Not all volunteers see disabilities. Working alongside people with disability who operate mainstream radio means seeing their abilities first. Together, we only see opportunities, teamwork, outcomes and success." 
~ Great quote Michael.


Myth #9 Not all volunteers are Australian! 

Stephanie Harder with Vyas Municipality colleagues, Nepal

“Not all volunteers are Australian! Here my Vyas Municipality colleagues and I bidding farewell to our Japanese @JICA volunteer after two years in Nepal.”
~ Thanks Stephanie!⁠


Australian and VSA volunteers

Australian and VSA volunteers and staff with the President and First Lady of Kiribati on ANZAC Day 2019
~Thanks for the pic Dave!⁠


Maree Shleibs

“Celebrating PNG Independence Day with my partner, an Irish volunteer, NZ volunteer Harriet and Petronella at Chanel College.”
~ Fantastic Maree⁠


If you liked this article, read more from the Stories for Home campaign including; Meet 10 inspiring people and one cute doggo,  I couldn't do my volunteer role without...  and international volunteering counts!