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How to get into the Voluntary Sector

Do you have aspirations to work in the voluntary sector? Getting on the ladder can be challenging, however with a step in the right direction and experience under your belt, it can be done. So if you're keen to make a difference, what can you do to make it happen? 


There's a wealth of different paths into the voluntary sector. Here, I share my own which started with gaining teaching experience abroad.


Pursue what interests you

After graduating, all I knew is that I wanted to go somewhere completely new and different. I’d loved volunteer teaching whilst at university, and so it was, I found myself joining an NGO and teaching English overseas in Hong Kong. This experience whetted my appetite to see more of the world and develop my skills. So I returned home to the UK with the aim to achieve a TEFL and make more plans to teach abroad. For the following 5 years I travelled and taught English around the world. However, after a wealth of fantastic experiences through teaching abroad, I felt I needed a new direction and so returned to the UK to hang up my backpack for a while.


Do your research

The travel bug dies hard and I was soon searching the net for new experiences. I'd had the opportunity to volunteer abroad whilst travelling such as voluntary teaching English in local schools and on eco-projects. These experiences, whilst being insightful had felt a little haphazard and I knew that this time I'd like to volunteer abroad properly. I came across an organisation looking for experienced volunteers to work in Sri Lanka. What struck me was that the placements were vocation and skill specific and advocated hard work and training rather than 'voluntourism'.


Get your foot on the ladder

My first introduction to the organisation actually started when I interned in their UK office, which gave me an insight into how they worked behind the scenes. The team were looking for a volunteer with extra experience abroad, to supervise their teaching and special needs placements in Sri Lanka. As I already had experience teaching overseas, I leapt at the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and volunteer abroad in Sri Lanka.


Be prepared to work hard

The volunteer work I undertook in Sri Lanka was far more challenging than anything I'd encountered before. It was full on, and emotionally and physically draining. However, living with a local family, taking public transport and working alongside Sri Lankans was a wonderful way to become immersed in the culture. Working 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, for no financial gain may sound crazy, but the experience I gained and skills I developed have been invaluable. I also felt really proud that I was working within an established organisation that valued ethics, applied hard work and sustainability.


Find your direction

Within the placement, I worked across a variety of projects within the local community. With so much to see, do and learn everyday, the time flew by. This time, when I returned to the U.K, I knew that I'd found something I could really contribute my skills to. As luck would have it, the organisation was looking for someone to join the team full time and having already been to volunteer abroad with them, as well as having interned in their office, I had the experience to go for it. I've now been part of the SLV team in some capacity for over a year and I'm still learning everyday about volunteering abroad, and how different cultures can work together. However, without having volunteered myself and gained that practical experience, I wouldn't have known what direction I wanted to take my career in, or have had the skill set to gain the position I have now. It's an ongoing, always changing and exciting journey. 

Further information

How can I get teaching experience abroad?

Teaching English is a great way to gain experience overseas. If you’re unsure as to whether you’d be best suited to teaching adults or children, you can choose a placement which involves a range of age-groups and abilities. If it’s your first experience teaching, taking a qualification such as a TEFL can make such a difference to your confidence in planning and leading classes, as well as standing out to future employers. This is why I’d advise choosing an opportunity that involves a TEFL, as well as training within the country.

To learn more about volunteer teaching abroad, check out this teaching placement I joined in Sri Lanka:

or for other opportunities to volunteer abroad, go here:


Page last edited Apr 28, 2017 History

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