Learning Service with THE Expert: Claire Bennett
Updated: May 23
Claire Bennett is the CoFounder of the organization Learning Service: Rethinking Volunteer Travel and the author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad. In this episode, she shares her valuable insight to having a ethical, responsible and developmental volunteer experience abroad.
A Bit About Claire
Claire has devoted a lot of her life to volunteering, she currently resides in Nepal, where she continues to educate others worldwide about ethical volunteering. She started young herself and throughout the years has learned and picked up valuable lessons that she is now sharing with others. Some of these lessons highlight the importance of using our skills and talents in the right way, that we are contributing positively to communities and that we are mindful of our actions.
What does Ethical Volunteering Look Like?
When traveling abroad with the intention to volunteer and make a positive impact on communities, it is important to differentiate “volunteering” and “tourism”. Being a tourist and being deaf to the environment you are in, will do more harm than benefit the communities and local people.
Something to keep in mind is that we have to learn before we can help. Instead of stepping off a plane and saying, “Hi, I’m here to help you”, we should say “Hi, I’m here to learn from you, and if or how can I be of help to you either now or in the future”. Through this, you are fostering a mindset of learning about the global community which will effectively increase the quality of work and aid you are putting forward.
Using your gifts and talents!
What makes the world around us so incredibly special and unique is that we are all equipped with special gifts and talents! It is important that we find the right activities to meet our goals, and then leverage our talents to make a stronger impact and ultimately reach your dreams.
Howard Thurman, who was an American author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive”.
This inspirational quote motivates young individuals to seek out their passions and interests, leverage their gifts and talents and ultimately put them into good use.
Making a Positive Impact when Volunteering and Looking for an Organization
To ensure that you are partnered and volunteering through the right organization, there are a few key things to look out for.
1. Do your Research.
When looking for different opportunities, it is crucial that you take the time to research various organizations. Taking a close look at their mission statement, their past impact and future plans. Find an organization that matches your interest and values, which is the way you will really be able to make that impact. Furthermore, if you are a Gapper (Gap Year student), search for programs with training and on-going support to maximize your learning opportunity.
2. Connect with Others.
Organizations will spend thousands of dollars in eye-catching marketing. However, it is important to take a step back and connect with the alumni of the organization, or read reviews on Google, Facebook, or Instagram. Listening to their experiences will help you gain a better insight into the organization.
3. Find a full fee breakdown.
Travelling and Volunteering abroad can be extremely pricey, therefore, the best organization will give you a full and transparent breakdown of where the money is going.
How do we share our stories?
Whenever individuals travel abroad to volunteer, we often see pictures of them in the forefront surrounded by young children who are all smiling. If we continue fueling these stereotypes, we are not educating the people around us effectively.
It is fundamental that we ensure local people are at the centre of the narrative. You want to send the message that “I am here to learn about and show solidarity for bigger processes that are happening and run by local and inspiring people, and that these processes will continue after I leave”.
Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad
As mentioned earlier, Claire Bennett is the author of the book Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad. There are 3 Learning Service Mantras that we will leave you with!
You have to learn before you can help.
The people that you need to learn from are those you are trying to help. Go in with the spirit of questioning and not making any assumption of what is needed.
Learning Service is a lifelong journey! Ask yourself, what are things you can continue to do in the future and how will you keep this cycle going!
Connect with Claire
Here you can find downloadable resources, videos and blog sharing real life stories and experiences!