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What it’s like to volunteer abroad in a Covid-19 world

Covid-19 Volunteer Abroad Stories with IVHQ

Covid-19 has had a huge impact on the local communities, wildlife and natural spaces that IVHQ programs support. Volunteers are needed now more than ever to help deliver vital social and conservation initiatives and support these communities as they get back on their feet.

The majority of IVHQ’s programs have already reopened in countries where the government advice, local health guidelines and border restrictions allow this. Our local teams have been working hard behind the scenes to implement additional health and safety measures. We also have a flexible booking policy in place, so that you can make changes to your dates, destination or project for free.

Many of our incredible IVHQers are currently volunteering across the globe and contributing their time and skills to make a real impact during this time of need. It’s thanks to these IVHQ heroes that we can continue the important work - and we’re here to share their inspirational stories.

Find out what it’s like volunteering in a post-Covid world from our volunteers on the ground:

Emily’s story: Environmental Scuba Diving in Portugal

Emily’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Environmental Scuba Diving in Portugal
Emily’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Environmental Scuba Diving in Portugal

Everything has been amazing so far, all the volunteers at the house are really friendly and the staff have been so sweet and accommodating. The food is delicious. I’m vegetarian and there are lots of great veggie options.

Everyone that’s been a part of my program is awesome and we’ve all become really good friends. I even decided to stay one more week, because I’m really enjoying my time here and I don’t want to leave so soon.

Making a difference on my project

I’m doing the Environmental Scuba Diving project and the team is very experienced, they really know what they’re doing. We’re helping observe and collect data on fish, learning how to protect the marine ecosystem and removing debris from the ocean. I feel like I’m helping a lot with the conservation work and I can visibly see that we’re making an impact.

Volunteering during Covid-19

Despite the Covid-19 situation, I feel very safe in the volunteer house, at my placement and being out and about in Portugal.

The program has implemented a number of measures to make sure we’re all safe. For example, social distancing rules are in place, the house is cleaned very regularly, there’s hand sanitizer everywhere and we have to wear masks if we go into stores.

To anyone thinking of volunteering abroad…

It may seem like a big step, but volunteering is an amazing experience. It’s definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s going to make you a better person and you’re going to learn a lot of things you wouldn’t have if you didn’t volunteer. So I would definitely encourage you to do it, as you’re going to have a lot of fun.

Tonja's story: Healthcare Outreach and Education in Ghana

Tonja's story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Medical in Ghana
Tonja's story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Medical in Ghana

I’ve volunteered through other programs and this is probably one of the best. It was an amazing experience despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

I was originally set to volunteer in April on the Health Outreach and Education project in Ghana, but my plans were delayed because of Covid-19. Thankfully, I was able to go as soon as Ghana reopened, and I’m so glad that I did. I was the only volunteer because of the current situation, but I don’t regret a minute of it.

Arriving in Ghana and settling in

Edward, IVHQ’s in-country partner, as well as the rest of the local team, made sure that I was taken care of and followed safety measures due to Covid-19. There was no reason for me to fear or be nervous.

The local team made sure that my transportation to the volunteer house in Accra was in place. When I arrived at the volunteer house, I was warmly greeted by the team there as well as respected members of the local community.

The next day, I had my program orientation, which covered language, customs, an overview of my health outreach and education program and discussions about excursions. I then traveled with the team to the Eastern Region, about 3 hours away from Accra, and stayed in the village of Frankadua which was the central location to the villages where work took place.

Tonja's story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Medical in Ghana
Tonja's story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Medical in Ghana

Healthcare volunteering during a pandemic

The night before volunteering, Joe, the team leader, led a meeting where we discussed more details about the work that I would be doing. I was asked to do blood pressure screenings, teach on health topics such as Covid-19, conduct malaria tests, and provide first aid - I do have American Red Cross First Aid training, but it is not a must.

At least 75 people per village would show up to learn and receive testing and care. The malaria tests are easy to perform, especially if you already have lab experience. It is advisable to bring at least 3 - 4 boxes of your own gloves.

The local staff assisted in reading malaria test results, educating about malaria treatment, conducting blood pressure screenings, and supporting with the general flow of the day. They constantly made sure that I had everything I needed, enquired if I needed to take a break, and made sure that my overall health and wellbeing were taken care of.

Making a difference in a time of need

During my time in the Eastern Region, I was able to provide health outreach in different villages close to the volunteer house in Frankadua. The other villages are about a 20 minute ride from the volunteer house.

There’s so much that a volunteer can do. Overall, I was also able to teach about hygiene at a secondary school, educate a community about Covid-19, conduct over 200 malaria tests where treatment was provided (the program fee covers the cost of the tests and medication), conduct blood pressure screenings and education, and provide first aid care to people who aren’t able to access a clinic.

Feeling safe and comfortable

The team is organized, worked well together, and made me feel like family. Safety measures were taken because of Covid-19, like wearing face masks, using hand sanitizer and sanitizing equipment such as tables and chairs.

The volunteer house was clean and I felt safe because of the security guard. The food was great and Mary, the chef, can make food based on your diet. The team went above and beyond to make sure that I was taken care of.

The need for volunteers is great and there’s so much work to do. I will return again.

Aysha’s story: Teaching in Tanzania

Aysha’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Teaching in Tanzania
Aysha’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Teaching in Tanzania

Volunteering in Tanzania has been an absolute gift. A gift that has changed my view of the world and is making me smile every single day. I took part in the Teaching project in Arusha and it was by far the best decision I’ve ever made.

Why I decided to volunteer during this time

After I finished my studies I was really looking forward to my free time - and then the pandemic broke out. We were surrounded by news and the situation was restricting everyone’s daily life. University stress had also sapped up a lot of my energy in the previous months and I needed a break from it all.

That’s when I discovered IVHQ. I was fascinated by the pictures, experiences and stories of other volunteers. There is detailed information on IVHQ’s website about the situation within the countries where they run programs. They provide a detailed overview of the pandemic and were able to give advice about where it was safe to visit and where not.

It has always been a dream of mine to go to Africa, especially Tanzania. I did my research and found out that Tanzania didn’t close the borders. I was so excited. I got in touch with IVHQ and the application process was easy and went smoothly. My Program Manager was always available when I had questions. I was so happy.

Traveling during Covid-19

Of course, I had to do a Covid-19 test before starting the trip. This was the only additional thing that had to be proven once I entered the airport. When I arrived in Tanzania, I was totally amazed. There is no daily news about Covid-19. Everyone knows about Covid but nobody makes it the main topic of conversation. Instead, we are enjoying every single moment.

Aysha’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Teaching in Tanzania
Aysha’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Teaching in Tanzania

Immersing myself in a new culture

I’m enjoying my time to the fullest. Everyday is enriched by the smiles of the students, the warmth of the locals and the staff, who have become like family to me.

The Mamas are like Mothers to us. They care a lot. They prepare the best food. I’m always excited for dinner when we get back from a day of teaching at the school.

We have our social night on Thursdays and everyone is always dancing, laughing, enjoying the food and sharing their experiences. The local staff, Nelly and Angella, are amazingly nice to us. Always with a big smile on their faces, checking that everything is alright. Glory is always ready to bring us more joy by finding awesome trips and excursions for the weekends.

Volunteering as a teacher

The school I volunteer at is a pre and primary school in Arusha. I am teaching English and some French in different classes. During break we are always dancing and singing. I’ve learnt some interesting dance moves thanks to these kids! The teachers are very kind and polite. I will stay in contact with the head teacher and the other teachers. They have enriched my life in so many ways.

Lifelong memories and friendships

I’ve gotten to know four amazing souls with whom I’ve created the most memorable experiences. We will remain in close contact and plan to celebrate New Years Eve together.

I’ve seen so much and been able to grow from my experiences during my time in Tanzania. I’ve learned to live by the saying “Hakuna Matata” and that everything will be “Pole Pole” once you have the right state of mind. Thanks for the enlightenment, IVHQ. You’re amazing and this certainly won’t be the last time I volunteer with you, that’s for sure.

Alexandre’s story: Construction & Renovation in Costa Rica

Alexandre’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Construction & Renovation in Costa Rica.
Alexandre’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Construction & Renovation in Costa Rica.

My time in Costa Rica has come to an end and I want to share what I have been up to for the past 4 weeks.

Volunteering has been a new experience and I definitely received more than I could give back. If I had been told, not that long ago, what was in store for me during the second half of 2020, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Traveling at this time definitely made the experience even more special.

My Construction volunteer project

I had the chance to take part in helping a first-class group of people build houses on the Construction project just outside of San José.

The houses are part of ‘Project Abraham’, which is providing education, social services and care to children with, for the most part, challenging upbringings. The complex is soon to deliver its first free housing for single moms and their children, giving women a chance to pursue their studies again.

Volunteering abroad during Covid-19

Traveling during a global pandemic has been challenging at times, but far from impossible. Most countries in Central America require a Covid-19 test before entering, which as opposed to Europe, is very easy to get and even cheaper for travelers. As many land borders remain closed to travelers, large cities and airports are the best options for crossing borders.

Alexandre’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Construction & Renovation in Costa Rica.
Alexandre’s story on volunteering in a Covid-19 world with IVHQ: Construction & Renovation in Costa Rica.

Exploring Costa Rica without tourists

Once I made it to Costa Rica, it was incredible to be one of the first international tourists in months. We did not queue anywhere, we were the sole visitors of the usually extremely busy national parks, paradise islands, wildlife sanctuaries, volcanoes and beaches.

Having those places all to ourselves was a unique experience in itself. It was also really rewarding to give the local people working in tourism a little hope that international travel would resume slowly but surely!

My advice for anyone considering volunteering at this time

The main lesson I learnt is to prepare myself to be flexible and also to have a little faith! A lot was outside of my control and the rules were unclear and changing very quickly. For instance, I received my first test result at the airport a couple of hours before my take off to Costa Rica.

What’s next for me

After a month and a half in Costa Rica, I am now in Panama headed off to Guatemala in a few days. I will also have the chance to visit El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico on the way.

I want to say a massive thanks to my mates for having me as part of their team for this short while and to IVHQ for making this journey possible. Pura Vida!

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