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This week’s guest post has been written by Zofia Baldyga – an experienced international volunteer who believes the best part of volunteering is the opportunity to gain new skills!

Volunteering has a lot advantages. It’s a great way to travel on budget, a perfect way to meet new people, a fantastic way to cope with language barriers.  Each and every angle of volunteering might be a reason for someone to embark on a such an adventure; for me however I volunteer as a way of gaining new skills.

I had my first volunteering experience back in 2007. I was a 19-year-old Polish girl, who wanted to travel solo and who went to volunteer in Ukraine without even learning a local alphabet. Silly, right? I decided to apply and go because I wanted to explore the country, meet new people and do something “different”. Back then I didn’t think about one particular aspect of volunteering; something which seems to be very crucial to me in 2013.

That’s right ladies and gentleman; gaining new skills!

I’m a 25-year-old female Polish NGO worker and freelance translator. An avid short-term volunteer, I took part several different projects in Poland, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Ukraine and Armenia. Nothing impressive. Usually I was choosing projects with kids or those dedicated to arts and crafts. The professional in me was looking for projects to which my skills could contribute. The adventurous part of me wanted to benefit.  To try something I never had an opportunity to do before.



Zofia: volunteering as a means to gain new skills!

I’m a 25-year-old female Polish NGO worker and freelance translator and I painted roofs in Open Air Museum in Pereyaslav in Ukraine. I renovated a Gothic castle in Western Bohemia, Czech Republic. I collected herbs in southern Czech Republic and learnt how to make herbal tea out of them. Big city girls don’t have this opportunity very often! I did, and I’m not any-one special.

Have you never volunteered before but dreaming about it? Are you itching to learn something new? If there is a skill you want to gain and there is a will to step further, it’s gonna be really simple. Trust me!

Zof Herbs

Collecting herbs in southern Czech Republic to make herbal tea!


As international volunteering is becoming more and more popular there are plenty of projects you can take part in. Some of the hosting organizations charge pretty high fees, but if you keep searching there are projects you can find for free, and organizations who will cover nearly all your expenses. A wide variety of projects means that being a volunteer today could mean doing anything. Think about what you want to do first.

A volunteer is someone who works to benefit others, to contribute to a community. Volunteers make dreams work. Today, however volunteering is an industry where you as the volunteer can have input into HOW you want to contribute. It’s time for you to make YOUR dreams work while benefitting others at the same time!

Everything here clicks. The recipe is very simple. Think about the skill you want to gain, find a project which enables you to do it, go and gain the skill. It’s that easy. I’m a living proof!


There are plenty of options for volunteering internationally today!

There are two paths skill-oriented volunteers might follow. The adventurous and the professional.

The adventurer in you might be eager to try something completely new, like, let’s say, construction work in the middle of a jungle or working in a zoological garden in Ukraine. All of this is doable. You just need to choose your project and research a bit.

Then there is a second way to go – volunteering as a way to make your CV look better. There are projects which allow you to actually develop skills you need to be competitive and competent in your professional field.  There are a huge number of host organizations which offer skill-based placements. They might have an opportunities ranging from an engineer to a firefighter. I, an NGO worker specialized in international migration issues, found a perfect match in Armenia thanks to Armenian Volunteer Corps. Everything is possible as you see. Is there a will? A way will be found too.

Remember: Those who can do more, volunteer. ~Author Unknown


Zofia Bałdyga aka Zof is a Polish Yerevan-based NGO worker interested in international migration issues, translator from Czech and Slovak, an occasional poet and photoblogger. A visual addict.  Her blog, The Picktures presents photo essays from her travels. She feels at home everywhere but her favorite places in the world are Prague and Yerevan.

Follow her journey on Facebook.


  1. Great post! And making me even more excited for my upcoming volunteer stints in Mexico. Thanks! :)

    • You’ll have such an amazing time! Can’t wait to follow your updates!

    • Thanks Dave – will check it out!

  2. Interesting post. As a fellow NGO worker and previous volunteer I’m not sure I agree that volunteering should be done in order to gain skills- the most valuable volunteers are those who have skills to contribute to a project, be it accounting, website management, coaching sports, teaching arts and crafts- whatever skills you have, there will be a project out there that is looking for them. If you really want to make a difference, find a project that needs your skills for capacity building. Anything you gain from the experience is an added bonus!

    • You make a great point – definitely the most valuable volunteers bring skills to the table which are relevant to the project at hand – I do enjoy learning new skills as I go though, I’ve been on a few different projects which were tailored specifically for volunteers to grow and adapt leadership skills etc, so I guess it’s about opportunity what you’re looking for at the time!

  3. Think this kind of sums up the problems with the volunteering industry. The primary goal has to be creating benefit to the host community, which generally means the skill transfer should be going the other way.

    • I don’t know that I would agree with you on this summing up the problems with the volunteer industry, because I do believe that the benefits from volunteering can be mutually beneficial for both the volunteer and the host alike, though I do totally agree that the host community should be benefiting from any project which is taking place. That doesn’t mean that they can’t benefit while the volunteer is learning and acquiring new skills along the way.

      The fact is though that there are a tonne of great programs out there which include training for those with little experience in the area. Some voluntary organisations want to make sure that the focus of the project is closely aligned with their strategic goals. A skill-based volunteer assignment allows an organisation to best benefit from the volunteers skill set and get the most out of the experience.

      Other organisations are flexible, giving volunteers the opportunity to participate in a project that isn’t based on their skill set, and there are plenty of ways these volunteers if eager and ready to learn, can make a difference.

      I think the problem with the volunteering industry is not summed up in taking on a volunteer placement to gain new skills, but in the gap year and career break industry becoming increasingly profit-driven in recent years, which is much to the detriment of volunteers and the needs of host communities.

      My thoughts anyway :)

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