How volunteering changes lives – and maybe even yours

Does lounging on a beach all day bore you rigid? Does the thought of holidaying in that same old hotel fill you with joy or dread? Do you long for something, well, a bit different this year? A myriad volunteering opportunities await the brave adventurer who is ready for a challenge, ready to venture beyond the comfort zone of their everyday life and ask themselves 'Have I got what it takes?' The following opportunities are based both overseas and in the UK; they may last just a few days or require a longer commitment.

PixabayVolunteering can change lives.

Mission Builders International is the volunteer placement branch of Youth With A Mission (YWAM), a global organization dedicated to training and sending Christian missionaries since 1960. YWAM was originally founded to inspire youth to get involved with mission but now they invite all ages to get involved. Their stated goal is to help Christians 'to know God and to make Him known'. They're in the business of recruiting short-term volunteers and matching them with global ministry opportunities within YWAM. The Mission Builders website has a list of regions where volunteers can go to make a difference, get connected to frontline missions and support the work of YWAM workers on the mission field. Details are here.

Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) has been sending professional volunteers to communities in Africa and Asia for almost 60 years, supporting over 70,000 volunteers in that time. Last year its volunteers supported the training of more than 40,000 teachers and nearly 32,000 health practitioners. Through working with local organisations, businesses and cooperatives 165,000 people were better able to provide for themselves and their families. The VSO website has an impressive jobs board with opportunities for experienced professionals who wish to volunteer overseas with additional programmes for 18-35 years olds and for organisations interesting in providing corporate volunteering opportunities for their employees. Details are here.

Oxfam is a global movement of millions of people who share the belief that, in a world rich in resources, poverty isn't inevitable. It aims to find political solutions while directly tackling the root causes of poverty and creating societies where empowered individuals can thrive. Oxfam doesn't send volunteers overseas as the projects it supports are managed by local development agencies in the country or region in need, using workers from the local population. The Oxfam website has a jobs board with a wide variety of voluntary positions and internships based throughout the UK. Details are here.

Samaritans is a UK based charity which is known for the support it offers to callers over the phone. It also offers support by email, SMS, face-to-face and through written correspondence. Volunteering with Samaritans in this way is known as being a listening volunteer. Samaritans also need volunteers to help in many other ways which can include marketing, fundraising, outreach or a variety of administrative roles. Samaritans also has charity shops with volunteering opportunities available. These shops help raise vital funds to keep their services running. Samaritans began in 1953 in London, founded by a vicar called Chad Varah. Although it is not a religious organisation, it has kept the name and still operates under Chad's guiding principles of confidential, non-judgmental support. Samaritans currently has 201 branches across the UK and Ireland. The Samaritans website gives clear information about what it means to be a listening volunteer and how to volunteer in other roles. Details are here.

Operation Mobilisation (OM) is an international Christian missions movement with the express purpose of working in every region of the world, aiming to motivate and equip Christians to share God's love, and to strengthen and plant churches especially in areas where Christ is least known. The OM website gives exceptionally clear information about its short term missions with a very helpful FAQ section. Opportunities for short-term volunteering are easily searchable by date, location and type. Details are here.

In addition to the array of volunteering opportunities being offered by major charities, local organisations are often in need of long and short-term help. Churches, parks, environmental groups, hospitals, libraries, community cafes, food banks and the like all need reliable people to keep them up and running. A good mooch on social media throws up a wide range of options in my own locality. Before making enquires I feel I would need to decide and define how much time I wanted to give.

Perhaps the more difficult decision is the one to get involved with the messy lives of those who are living right on our doorsteps. It can require a considerable amount of bravery. We fear getting caught up in something beyond our control, becoming part of a disturbing drama that we can't cope with.

One of my neighbours is a retired community nurse who has survived divorce, mental breakdown and bowel cancer. Yet, of her own accord, she makes regular daily visits to a good half dozen housebound ladies. She just quietly gets on with it. I'm humbled and staggered by her Christ-like grace.

Another friend takes an older relative out for the afternoon now and then. They have a lovely time together and my friend feels refreshed by the experience.

My colleague, a busy professional man, has recently committed to deliver an eight-week practical cookery course for men aged over 55. The Age UK Man With a Pan Course runs for six to eight weeks on a Saturday morning. It's a great example of matching someone's skill with another's need.

Sometimes the simplest and most meaningful opportunities are sitting right under our noses.

Val Fraser is an author and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @ValFraserAuthor.

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