Whether you’re a young person taking a gap year or an older person looking to bolster your credentials, volunteering abroad has never been so popular or so available. Whatever your inclination in life, experience of living in another country and its culture working with those who need help is a valuable experience.
Disability shouldn’t be a barrier to such endeavors, yet volunteering requires precaution, effort and research in order for your health to be preserved and your fulfillment and enjoyment of the role maximized.
As well as dispelling stereotypes, people with disabilities can bring both inspiration and a new perspective to everyone they encounter. Showing others that where you go in life is largely dictated by your attitude and will rather than the condition of your body is a great attribute disabled volunteers can demonstrate.
The right agency, location and insurance
Some agencies specialize in assisting the disabled. Others will work on your behalf to find projects that suit your needs and desires by soliciting other organizations. Given that both the search and potential positions must be tailor-made, it is worth beginning the process at least a year before you’d like to set off. Enlisting the help of family or your carer in the search will relieve the burden, whilst discussion will narrow down potential destinations and jobs. Short-term placements have grown hugely in the last decade; nowadays you can volunteer from as little as two weeks all the way up to two years.
If you happen to volunteer in a first world country with good healthcare and transport, then a range of issues are solved there and then. Long distance places such as Japan and South Korea offer superb amenities, healthcare and accessibility for disabled individuals but can be expensive. Closer to home the nations of Spain, Italy and Greece offer both a healthy climate and shorter travel distance, and these countries are expanding opportunities to disabled volunteers. If you aspire to an affinity with a certain culture or language, this should also play a part in your choice.
Insurance is vital. Sometimes agencies will take care of this for you, or point you to a company that will cover a wide range of conditions for a fair rate. Length of time covered will also affect the cost. In the EU insurance can be a smoother process if you apply for the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which likewise allows for certain expenses to be refunded on returning to the UK.
You should secure enough medication to last you for the duration of the post. Some medications abroad are available without a prescription. Once you are sure of a given country you can investigate this. If you need to consult with your GP, it is best to be polite and concise with your request as doctors tend to work on a tight schedule.
If volunteering in a non-English speaking country, it is at least useful and sometimes necessary to study the language. Resources such as beginner’s books can be found cheaply online. Whether or not you are visually impaired audio courses such as Michel Thomas are very useful. If you have trouble walking, a mobility aid suited to the environment can make that bit of difference.
After you’ve decided where you’d like to go and what you’d like to do, making a list of requirements is essential. These are things other than the usual travel itinerary of proper clothes, plane tickets and sun cream. If you use a wheelchair, you’ll need to be based in a place with good accessibility such as even ground and ramps. If you’ve skills, experience and things you enjoy, applying for a post relevant to these can help your application and make the task easier.
Transportation should be available and accessible. Some countries will require immunization shots which can be arranged via your GP. Many countries outside the EU require UK residents carry a visa. Bathroom and bedroom facilities in your accommodation should suit your needs. Distances to clinics, pharmacies and hospitals should also be noted. If you have allergies, checking the local diet can be handy. Brainstorm with those around you to help your checklist develop to meet your needs.
Once things are set in stone, you might find yourself liaising with international charities for suitable equipment such as a proper bed or shower seat to be delivered to your place of stay. Advice concerning your placement can also be sought from these organizations.
If you are in receipt of benefits then you should investigate conditions surrounding travel abroad. Many benefits will continue to be paid but require notification if you expect to be outside of the country beyond a certain length of time. It may be necessary for you or your carer to notify social services ahead of your journey. If you have a personal assistant, it is possible for them to apply to have their travel costs covered so they can fly out to see you.
In the scenario that there are outstanding costs not covered by the hiring agency you can apply for grants to cover your accommodation, travel and living costs. Often these can be sourced from a variety of charities, many of which will need you to make a case for the funding. Often however you’ll meet a representative who will guide you through the process and fill out any forms with you. Grants often fall under the umbrella of local initiatives specific to your region, but there are also wider schemes. Having a stock e-mail to inquire can yield more information, as can a simple phone call. In any event you should have some spending money for luxuries, as such expenses will not tend to be covered by grants.
Since you read this it means you’re at least considering volunteering. If you’re enthusiastic then please don’t stop here! Volunteering abroad when you’ve a disability can seem daunting at first and certainly isn’t easy. Yet if you persevere, take things step-by-step and seek assistance you can get there. Afterwards the potential in finding a new job or even more volunteering elsewhere is huge. Not only does accomplishing this set a fine example, it shows others that with willpower, strength and teamwork, anybody can do anything they set their mind to. Whether you seek advancement in your career or simply a sense of accomplishment, volunteering abroad proves to others determination, willpower, initiative and strength. Disability needn’t be an obstacle to attainment in life.
Martyn Sibley, a disabled volunteer, details his time spent volunteering abroad: http://disabilityhorizons.com/2012/02/martyn-sibley-overcoming-my-disability-to-volunteer-abroad/
Everything Is Possible – http://www.everythingispossible.eu/
Leonard Cheshire volunteering – http://www.lcdisability.org/?lid=3094