Childcare and Conservation volunteer reads a story to the children in her class

Short-term Volunteering Abroad: Can You Really Make a Difference?

Here’s how we ensure you’re always building on the work of the past, and preparing for contributions by future volunteers.
By Vicci Parry | 29th May, 2019
Updated on 27th July, 2023

Are you thinking about volunteering abroad, but can only commit to a couple of weeks? We know life can be busy. Setting aside months to go abroad and support community development isn’t always realistic. But it’s hard to know if a short volunteer trip abroad is worth it. Can you really make a difference in that time? The short answer is: yes, you can!

Making a real impact is very important to us. It’s at the heart of everything we do. It’s also why we have specific structures in place to ensure that short-term volunteers can have long-term impact.

Our initiatives are founded on management plans, a specialised database for tracking our work, and annual impact reports. In this way, we ensure you’re always building on the work of the past, and preparing for contributions by future volunteers. We also offer several one-week volunteer abroad trips. These have been carefully selected by our staff. They know that with the structures we have in place, you can still make an impact in just a week.

A short term volunteer planting flowers

Long-term, sustainable goals for short-term volunteer work

One of the most important ways we make sure you contribute to long-term impact during your short-term volunteer opportunity is by setting sustainable, long-term goals. All of our project goals fall in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

The most significant part in taking part of Projects Abroad was seeing that I made a difference in at least a few people’s lives and that I did my part while over there. My time with Projects Abroad motivated me to attend Graduate School for Global Epidemiology, after I complete my undergraduate studies. I saw the suffering of people and communities due to the lack of knowledge and resources and want to work to fix those exact problems around the world; and track the diseases I saw in Ghana. - Rebecca Chase, Public Health and Nursing intern in Ghana. 

What’s more, we don’t just come up with these goals on our own. We work closely with local community leaders and our local staff on the ground who really know the situation at our different placements. They’re able to guide us on what is needed at each placement. From there, we develop our goals and come up with plans for the small, yet tangible, steps we can take towards fulfilling them.

Specially developed management plans

We also have tailored management plans for projects like Medicine, Childcare, and Conservation. These plans help us work towards achieving our long-term goals.

Having a plan means we can ensure our work, and your work as a volunteer, achieves specific end goals.

You may not see a tangible difference during your short volunteer trip. You can be assured that we are taking great strides forward together. Each of our initiatives builds on previous work and takes us one step closer to reaching our goals.

Our Global Impact Database

But how can we be sure we’re really making a difference if we don’t measure our work? We can’t. That’s why we’ve developed our own specialised tool to track the achievements of all our volunteers and projects around the world. This tool is our Global Impact Database.

The Global Impact Database was specially designed so that we can better track our progress across different projects. It serves as a monitoring and evaluation tool, that not only helps us to gather data to inform our operational decisions and strategies, but also tracks improvements in areas of development within the communities we serve. By centralising data, we can ensure greater continuity between short-term volunteers so they build on each other’s work and contribute towards these long-term improvements. A Nutrition volunteer may be able to, for example, generate a list of community members found to have blood sugar levels above the normal range, so we can closely follow up with them during future visits. - Jenny Puyo, Head of Programme Development.

As a volunteer, you might find yourself working with the database. You’ll input data after a community healthcare outreach or tick off early childhood development checklist items as you work with children. With our staff and volunteers consistently updating the database, we can start to build a picture of the progress we’re making.

For example, we can monitor the numeracy levels of a specific child’s profile. We can see whether the child is improving and gauge what’s working and what isn’t. This way, we can tailor the way we work with this specific child. Elsewhere, thanks to patient profiles, we can also monitor changes in community groups’ vital signs, such a blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and BMI levels, among others.

The database is completely secure and anonymous. We want to make sure we monitor and evaluate without compromising the privacy of the people we work with.

A Public Health volunteer takes the blood pressure of a local man during a medical outreach

Our annual Global Impact Report

Every year, we release a Global Impact Report. This document is a compilation of the major achievements of the previous year. It’s the perfect way for us to reflect on the work our volunteers have done. It’s also an opportunity for you to see the bigger picture of your contribution.

You might have planted 50 trees during your project, but with so many other volunteers contributing to reforestation initiatives around the world, you’ll be able to see how your 50 trees contributed to the overall 52,700 trees planted that year! Without you, and the hundreds of volunteers like you, this amazing achievement could never have happened.

Check out our latest Global Impact Report to find out more about the kind of impact you can contribute towards on your project.

Our Impact Report for high school students doing short-term volunteering abroad

We also have an impact report focused on the achievements of our High School Special volunteers. These short volunteer trips are usually geared towards creating resources that make a tangible difference in the long-term. For example, you might repair and renovate a structurally unsound classroom, giving students a safe place to learn for years to come.

Read more about the achievements of our latest teenage volunteer groups in our 2018 High School Special Impact Report.

Conservation volunteers carefully dig up mangrove roots

The impact a short-term volunteer opportunity has on you

The impact of our projects extends beyond the difference we make in local communities. As a volunteer, you’ll find your life deeply impacted too, even if you only spend one week volunteering abroad. Whether it’s through career growth, cultural exploration, boosted confidence and deeper compassion, or all of the above!

On projects like Medicine, Law & Human Rights, and Journalism, you’ll get practical career experience while helping out. You’ll shadow professionals and make your CV stand out.

But it’s not only these projects that will have a profound impact on you. All of our projects focus on deepening your understanding of different people and cultures. We help you hone skills like teamwork and perseverance. Helping others also grows your compassion.

You’ll find you’ll want to keep making a difference after you get back home. And with a taste for travel, you might want to keep exploring the world, meeting new people, and building connections across continents and countries.

Our favourite success stories

We’ve chosen two of our favourite success stories that have come about because of our long-term goals.

Combating climate change in Fiji

For our Conservation Project in Fiji, we’ve partnered with a local resort, Fiji Uprising. With their help, we set out the long-term plan to plant enough mangroves to make them the first carbon-neutral resort in Fiji.

Each volunteer contributed towards the ever-growing number of mangroves being planted, whether it was through tending to the saplings in the nursery, planting them along the coast, or collecting new propagules.

By the end of 2018, through the work of each of these volunteers, we were able to achieve our goal. Fiji Uprising is officially the first-of-its-kind carbon-neutral resort in Fiji!

Rebuilding schools in Nepal

In April 2015, a devastating earthquake struck Nepal. In the wake of the destruction, thousands of school students were left without a safe place to learn. Our volunteers stepped in to help rebuild schools in Kathmandu valley.

In just 20 months, 500 volunteers built nine schools and 96 classrooms. This work meant over 2,000 children could go back to school! These volunteers played an important role in ensuring students could continue to learn and build a brighter future for themselves.

So if you’re considering a short-term volunteer opportunity with us, rest assured that you’ll be playing an important part in the bigger picture. As an organisation, we recognise that it’s our duty and privilege to make sure our volunteers and projects really do facilitate growth and development.

With all of these structures in place, we’ve got the long-term outlook covered, so you can concentrate on your placement work knowing you’re contributing to something bigger.

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