So why would you pack your bags to volunteer as an SLP somewhere in the world? As an SLP who was part of the Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD) program in the South Pacific islands of Samoa, these are my reasons for encouraging you to volunteer:
1. Travel to Amazing Places
The first reason why I looked into volunteering was because I wanted an adventure, but still wanted to be an SLP and keep my skills up. When you volunteer you can usually determine your length of stay and get to live and experience places you might not otherwise have visited. You might receive a living allowance or have to self fund your whole trip, but it’s the easiest way to travel and be an SLP.
2. Expand Your Skills
You might enter the country as an SLP, but you will leave as a highly skilled professional in areas that can be as vast as computer programming to hairdressing! The reality of volunteering and working in a developing country is that skilled professionals may be lacking. If you know how to turn on a computer and send an email… well, you might be that organisations new programmer! Yes, it can be daunting as you may find yourself doing a thousand other jobs and undertaking roles that were not in your job description, but you learn a lot.
3. Have a Cultural Exchange
There is a difference between traveling to and living somewhere else for a short-extended period of time. You may learn a new language, become integrated into a different culture, embrace new foods and customs and experience things that you never knew that you would! It is for this reason that volunteering really appeals to me, as I can immerse myself into a new way of life, doing a job that inspires me to be better. It is likely that you will live a ‘simpler’ life, due to lack of resources… in Samoa I had no hot water or a TV, and I used the internet once every 2 weeks for half an hour! With this cultural exchange comes respect and understanding – your new country might have different beliefs and processes and so I feel it is our duty to work with and not against these.
4. Boost Your SLP Career
There is no denying that volunteering as an SLP is a unique experience that can really boost your career and get you that next job! With SLP positions becoming more competitive, and entry into colleges/universities becoming harder, volunteering as an SLP shows that you are committed to your field. Most volunteer positions require you to be – or enable you to become more flexible, organised, creative, time efficient….. and a lot of other ‘desirables’ that SLP positions list. Volunteering can make you stand out, and if you integrate these unique experiences into your interview, you are sure to impress.
5. Shared Experience
One of the main reasons that people want to volunteer is that they want to give something back. When you are passionate about something that you do, and you can help people who may not even have access to those services in their country, it really changes you as a person and as an SLP. My experience might be different to other volunteer experiences as I had set goals to achieve within my one year framework that was determined before I left – I wasn’t coming in to the country thinking that I knew what my counterparts needed. Through all my laughs and frustrations, I know that I really helped to change the course of some people’s lives, and that inspires and makes me proud of my skills I have been asked to contribute to various articles on my time as an SLP working in a developing country and sometimes when I sit back and really think about my time, what I achieved and the photos that I have… I think that I am the luckiest SLP in the world!