What to expect from life as a volunteer

Volunteering for a worthy cause can be highly beneficial, both mentally and physically. However, it can also be scary at first if you do not know what to expect. If you have signed up to volunteer in Masisi in the Congo, you will need to be ready and expect to live life in a completely different manner to how you do now.   You will have to prepare yourself to see a different side to life, especially if you are volunteering in war-torn areas or areas stricken by disease and disaster. However, it can be an enriching and enlightening experience for those who are looking for something to inspire and change their lives. If you are interested in volunteering, outlined below are some things to expect from life as a volunteer.  

You might get sick

Volunteering for the MSF for ebola in the DRC might sound dangerous to your health, but all volunteers will receive the best healthcare and medical attention possible if they get sick. There is no need to worry about becoming ill during your time as a volunteer, but you should be prepared for some adjusting.   With different food and tap water that might not reach modern standards, as well as exposure to different elements, and encounters with mosquitos, it is likely that your body will have to undergo an adjustment period. You will need to slowly try out different kinds of foods and always look for bottled water to drink, as you cannot be sure of the safety of the tap water in some countries you might be visiting.

Be ready to go without luxuries

One of the points of volunteering is that you are leaving your comfort zone, which includes living without luxuries for the duration of your time in the country. Masisi in the Congo and many other African countries might not have the best cell phone reception or internet connections, so you will need to be prepared to live without these while volunteering.   You might have to walk dusty roads and take hot, overcrowded busses to reach your designated tasks locations while volunteering, so be sure to train by walking long distances while you are at home, before leaving to volunteer. Be prepared to live in basic conditions, with interesting local foods instead of your usual fast foods for lunch and dinner. And rather than spending time glued to your phone, you will be learning about new cultures and meeting new people.

Early starts and late finishes

The life of a volunteer is a full and exciting one, and you will have early mornings and some late evenings to contend with. Volunteering for the MSF in the Congo, or for any volunteering programme, means that you will have to wake up before 7am and go to sleep at around 8pm or later.   However, not every hour is filled with difficult work. You will be able to spend your lunch time with your coworkers and friends, and in the evenings you can spend time trying out new and exciting dishes from the restaurants near your volunteer centre or simply relaxing in your room after a long day. If you are not an early riser, you will need to practice this at home, so your body is not shocked by the waking hours. Always try to eat breakfast, so that you have energy for the day.  

You will learn patience and proactivity

You might be used to the fast-paced modern world, but as a volunteer you will likely be visiting developing countries where time tends to move slower. This can take some getting used to, but it will teach you patience and the ability to be proactive when taking on difficult and time-consuming tasks.   It can be frustrating if the local people follow the mantra of ‘what you can’t do today, do tomorrow’, but it is highly important to be respectful of their way of life. Do not try to rush people to complete a task, as they could feel that you are being disrespectful to their culture. Volunteering will teach you how to be patient with people while also using your own initiative in difficult situations. It is wise to read up about the culture of the country you will be volunteering in ahead of time.

Expect a change but prepare for enjoyment

It can be scary when you realise that being a volunteer means that your way of life and thinking might change completely. However, this can be a positive experience, especially for those who have recently graduated and are looking for a way to gain life experience.   You will have to prepare yourself for the possibility that you might get sick from the food or drink, that there will be little to no modern luxuries and that you will have to wake up earlier and go to sleep later than usual. You will learn patience, proactivity and will get a new lease on life by volunteering.