Few things can replace the privilege of listening to someone tell their life story. Senior citizens will talk about the “old days” you’ve only seen in movies or read about in books. Can you imagine meeting someone who witnessed a course-changing historic event?
You must have that favorite grandparent who had the patience and time to come up with bedtime stories or explained to you the whole family lineage. Unfortunately, some senior citizens have no one to share their legacy with and struggle to keep their memories alive. In other cases, their country simply wasn’t prepared to deal with aging members of society.
On one hand, volunteering abroad with senior citizens gives you the opportunity to make them feel appreciated again while also improving your communication and social work skills. On the other hand, as this new demographic emerges in some developing countries, it gives you the opportunity to help contribute to that evolving support system.
Where to Go
Considering the overall economic situation of a developing country, senior citizens are usually seen as a liability and a cost, even when the local culture expects the young to take care of the old, and the same neglect can happen in developed countries in Europe as well.
Volunteering abroad with senior citizens can range from providing simple companionship to being more involved in healthcare or medical relief programs. For some of the developing countries, due to the recent increase in life expectancy, the new senior citizen demographic comes with its own set of challenges.
When news came out that U.K. Prime Minister had appointed a Minister for Loneliness, a wave of international mockery followed. Although it sounds like a fake government department out of the minds of the cast of Monty Python, the reality of over nine million people reportedly feeling lonely, including the elderly, can’t go unnoticed.
England has a lot of opportunities for volunteers at senior living centers and you’ll also be close to exploring the rest of Europe in your free time.
Since the devastation caused by hurricane Irma in 2017, Puerto Rico has been garnering attention as a volunteer abroad destination. Most programs here are community-based, which means you’ll be spending a lot of time with locals of different ages, supporting them, and learning about their culture and heritage.
Even though you’re just hours away from the U. S. by plane, you’ll be embracing a different culture and practicing your Spanish language skills.
After the travel bans to Cuba were lifted, the Caribbean archipelago opened to the world. For many local senior citizens who have never left the islands, this is their first chance to connect with a different culture and, who knows, may even want to try learning a few words of English.
The opportunity for cultural exchange in a place like modern Cuba is absolutely priceless and your support to an impoverished population is also appreciated.
The increase in life expectancy in South Asian countries like India brought this developing country a new reality for which they weren't prepared: the elderly population.
Pressing concerns in India include lack of a proper pension system, low savings, and no experience with health care for the aging population. According to local tradition, the younger generations are responsible for caring for senior citizens in their families but they don't have the skills and knowledge to address more complicated health issues.
For those wanting to pursue a career in medicine, internships in India give you the opportunity to learn from professionals on the job, get the gist of work at a busy hospital, and support the local community.
Social work programs are ideal for volunteers looking to establish a more personal connection with the local community and can involve anything from simply reading to the elderly to actually working on a daily basis at a nursing home, for example. The top priority of these programs is for you to interact with the elderly people themselves, which has hugely positive impacts on their mental health regardless of their cultural background.
If you have skills and experience in healthcare, there are plenty of programs in need of volunteers that help place you where your skills are needed most. If you’re studying geriatrics or already have experience in the area, you can help fill human resource gaps in a country’s health care system. In situations of medical relief, like after a natural catastrophe or in an improvised refugee camp, specific skills like yours are welcomed.
These programs usually require some skills in education, social work, or healthcare. Community development programs have a higher impact in poverty-stricken regions or countries recovering from a recent natural disaster.
Usually, these programs function on all-hands-on-deck approach with larger numbers of volunteers working in the destination over a period of time depending on the extent of support needed.
Planning Your Trip
Although what most senior citizens appreciate is a bit of companionship and someone to talk to, there are some skills you must have in mind before applying for a volunteer abroad program. As eager as you may be to have an impact in the world, here are a few things you need to know before planning your trip.
How to Choose a Volunteer Abroad with Senior Citizens Program
Volunteer programs are only successful when you add real value to the local community you’ll be working with. The same goes for senior citizens, even if in some situations you only need basic communication skills and a fair dose of patience and empathy.
If you’re not quite ready for a cultural shock, choose a program that takes you to a destination closer to your comfort zone. Volunteering abroad can take an emotional toll on you, especially if this is your first experience. It’s best to have a positive first impression that will make you want to volunteer again than the opposite.
Match your skills to the needs of the volunteer abroad program and you’re set for success. Also, make sure if you need to learn a foreign language before going and if you’ll be able to communicate in before you start the program.
Health & Safety
Before traveling, especially if your destination is a developing country, gather all information regarding vaccination and make sure all vaccines are in order. Although most countries don’t prevent you from entering without the required vaccines, not accounting for it could represent endangering others’ health.
Discuss with your physician prophylactic measures for diseases in your destination that can’t be prevented by vaccination, like malaria or dengue fever.
Consult with your volunteer program provider if 24/7 emergency support is included in the global fees and how it works. It’s best that you prepare for all scenarios (especially for your family members at home) than to wing it if you find yourself in that situation.
Other Need to Know
If you’re of a younger age, prepare for the potential difficulties of the generational gap but don’t overthink it. Each country and each culture will have their own version of it, so prepare ahead to avoid inappropriate behavior.
If your program provider has pre-traveling briefings use them to clear as many doubts as possible. You can always ask other Go Overseas alumni for tips and advice regarding the programs before deciding on one.