Here at The Career Break Site, we divide volunteering into two broad categories: professional volunteering and raw volunteering. Professional volunteering is well understood; it's the kind where you need specific qualifications and skills to go on a placement. But what about the other kind of volunteering?
What is raw volunteering?
Raw volunteering is the kind you don’t need any particular skills or experience for. Both gappers and career breakers do raw volunteering, but only career breakers can do professional volunteering.
A lot more career breakers do raw volunteering than you think, even though professional volunteering opportunities are usually open to them. And there are a lot of myths surrounding raw volunteering. Let's break some of them down now.
Myth 1: It’s not as intellectually stimulating as professional volunteering
Obviously, in a job where you don’t need any particular skills, the challenges aren’t going to be the same as in your day job.
However, it’s not true to say that you won’t be using your brain. Because you’re doing a different kind of work, in a new environment, with a new team and new supervisors, your brain will be working hard to absorb all the new information. That’s on top of actually carrying out the work and learning to get on with your new colleagues!
Of course, when you're volunteering abroad, there are also the challenges of working in a different country. As well as cultural differences, you may be encouraged or required to learn some of the local language, particularly if you're working alongside local volunteers or paid workers. If you're working with people (for example, in childcare or teaching English) your clients will also be local.
Myth 2: Raw volunteers only do dogsbody work
The work that raw volunteers do is incredibly varied.
Once you’re inducted or trained, you’ll be doing all kinds of interesting and valuable work – yes, you might be cleaning toilets one moment, but then you could be helping publicise an HIV project the next! You could be put in charge of children (a huge responsibility) or relied on to gather data.
Also, a lot of volunteers will come up with their own ideas for improving projects while they’re there, meaning you’ve got a chance to use your initiative and take charge. This is a great opportunity for you if you've got a lot of drive and/or creativity but can't (or don't want to) do professional volunteering.
Myth 3: You are shown what to do and then left to get on with it
While you will have a certain amount of autonomy as a raw volunteer, you don’t just get dumped somewhere and that’s it!
All placements will have a local person leading or supervising the project. They might also have someone from the volunteering organisation – plus, most organisations have 24-hour support in the UK.
It’s not just the work that you’ll be supported for – many placements will have you staying with a host family, and there is a network of support for you. This is not only nice to have around (we can all struggle in a new country!) but is also vital in case you get ill or hurt – there’s someone to translate for you at the hospital.
Myth 4: Raw volunteers take jobs away from locals
This is a sadly pervasive myth.
The truth is, if local organisations didn’t want volunteers from the UK (and other countries) they wouldn’t ask for them. Any reputable volunteering organisation checks out the project properly and ensures the need is genuine. Volunteers are needed to do a wide range of tasks that the project can’t find local staff for, or, more commonly, can't afford (and local people can't always afford to work without pay).
In many cases, the volunteers are helping to create jobs – either directly, by ensuring the project exists in the first place, or indirectly, by working on community development and business projects.
Myth 5: Raw volunteering is only for gappers
It used to be the case that only gap year students (people aged 18 to 21) did raw volunteering, which career breakers focused on professional volunteering, but that’s changed dramatically in the past few years.
Career breakers choose to do raw volunteering for a number of reasons, but the main one is that they want to do something completely different from their day job! It’s also a brilliant way of getting into a new career (as many career breakers do) because you’re learning about a new field from the ground up.
It’s risk-free too, because if you decide you don’t like it, you can just go back to your old job – or try something new!
Is raw volunteering for me?
Now you've learnt a bit more about raw volunteering, it's time to consider whether or not you'd like to do some raw volunteering on your career break.
If you have little in the way of professional skills or experience, it's ideal. Also, if you are used to, say, a desk job, and really fancy doing something physical, it's also a good option - a number of projects involve literally and metaphorically getting your hands dirty!
Also, although raw volunteering brings its own challenges, it's true that it is less stressful in many ways than professional volunteering - you have less responsibility and the placements are generally a bit less intellectually demanding. So if you want a break from the rat race but still feel the need to actually do something while you're abroad, raw volunteering could well fit the bill!