The Dual Impact of Volunteering Abroad

Three women in hardhats holding up gardening tools
Megan Smith talks about how volunteering abroad and ‘working holidays’ have become increasingly popular ways to travel and explore foreign cultures and lands.

Whether it’s working within the coffee fields of Costa Rica or teaching English to children in Nepal, volunteers with disabilities have made their presence known as contributory global citizens. It could be said that volunteers with disabilities bring an additional contribution to the international communities where they volunteer, and this is the understanding of ‘inter-dependence’.

Contrary to what many may think, asking for assistance or accommodation when volunteering abroad as a disabled person may positively contribute to the volunteer experience.

As a person with a disability myself who has volunteered abroad, I often thought that asking for assistance or accommodation from my host community was an undue burden, a burden that would not be there if an able-bodied person was volunteering. I soon realized that when I asked for assistance, people within the community felt more relaxed as I was no longer viewed as this foreigner who traveled there to ‘help’ them.

Asking for assistance from the communities you are assisting often is an equalizing force. As you, the volunteer, contribute something to the community, the community is able to give something back.

As volunteers with disabilities we are in a unique position of creating an equal, inter-dependent relationship with our host communities, where no-one feels like “charity”.

We often believe that through overcoming our disability we can contribute to the community, but what if it is because of our disability and the experiences associated with living with a disability that makes us the most valuable volunteers?

Read more in-depth perspectivies from Megan Smith in her article about volunteering abroad published in New Mobility magazine "Keeping House in Nepal" linked below.


Megan Smith