Giving Back to Your Host Community

I’m new to international teaching and will be moving to Africa this fall. I’ve always been involved in giving back to my community and most recently have worked as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, library literacy programs, and sponsored runs for charity/ environmental issues.

One of my motivations for moving overseas is to contribute to the world community, but being new to the international scene, I’m not really sure how to start. The director’s already told me about some school and community projects–they sound fine, but I know there’s so many more creative and innovative ways to get involved assisting my broader host community. Any advise/ideas would be much appreciated!

10 Responses to Giving Back to Your Host Community

  1. Cindy Vine says:

    I have taught in five different African countries, and have seen many bright-eyed enthusiastic international teachers arrive only to beome quickly disillusioned and lose their spark. The problem is, many peole think they are going to have an Out of Africa type experience, go on endless safaris and expect Africa to be like the pictures or movies they see on National Geographic. The truth is, Africa is hard and not glamorous at all. There are no Starbucks in most countries, if you are a shopaholic, this might not be the place for you either; if you are not in a capital or main city, shops can be rundown and nothing like you are used to at home. Imported goods are expensive, the internet is often slow and intermittent; you will witness poverty like you have never seen. You’ll see more flies, mosquitoes and ants than you’ll see animals. Most international schools are not as well-resourced as you might be accustomed to, and everything works at a much slower pace except your workload which might be a lot more than you are used to.
    I’m not meaning to sound negative, but I’ve seen too many people come out here and find it much tougher than they expected. I love Africa and do not desire to be anywhere else, but it is not everyone’s cup of tea.

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  2. Deborah says:

    Get to know local and international NGOs working in your country. Not only will you find worthy projects but you might also discover that they would like to interact with your school.

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  3. Texas says:

    Everything said so far is very true. I’ve been in Africa 3 years and found that the things I thought were important to a community are not necessarily what my host country thinks is important. Acclimating to your new home is vital to the decisions making process of what is needed and what you think is needed. I found myself totally overwhelmed with what I saw as severe poverty but as I look at it today, I see that what makes me happy is not the same as what makes them happy. I understand now that I cannot change the culture here and cannot make a huge impact on my community but I can make a difference in the individuals that are directly involved in my life. My school takes almost all my energy and time but giving a little extra to the guy who takes out my trash or sweeps the streets is so wholeheartedly appreciated and gratifying to me that I lool for ways to make a difference that way.
    I wish I could make more of a difference but have found that most of the programs that work for the poor have so many strings attached that very few productive. One friend volunteered to give English lessons and found her classroom empty each time she went. Another found that though she volunteered, they charged the participants. We have many charity auctions and charity events that give to the larger organizations like Operation Smile that freely repairs cleft pallats. Many of the x-pat organizations contribute to charities. Though not as fulfilling as other types of work might be, I feel this is the best way I can contribute here.
    One stated that the schools have programs. Our school supports an entire community with donations of food and clothing. Teaching our wealthy students the concept of charity is also fulfilling.
    Give it some time and see how it goes. You are in for a lot of surprises upon arrival. Some will be good and some not so. I have seen many come and be so overwhelmed, that they go home at Christmas and never come back. This gypsy life is not for everyone. You need to find out what you need to be comfortable in you new home first. Talk to teachers that are already there and ask what you need to be comfortable at home and more importantly, at school. So many arrive with expectations of what a school should have only to find not only do they not have it, you can’t buy it either. Talk to people before you come.
    I wish you all the luck and hope your new experience is a positive one like mine. Be versitile. Be receptive to changes. Be openminded. Look for the good in every situation. You will be challenged wherever you go in Africa. God bless!

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  4. Mr E says:

    I’ll join the chorus – teaching first year at any school is overwhelming, international or not. You have many times the planning needed while getting used to the texts, the curriculum, the students and the way the school operates. Don’t plan on anything extra but learning your school, the people, the country and the culture the first year.

    Then I’d suggest looking for opportunities for some additional projects for part of your first year’s vacation. My first year I learned that there was a big air safety issue here, because air traffic controllers did not have the necessary English ability to communicate well with international flights (English is the standard language for international aviation). I ended up teaching a number of classes, and tutoring privately. While I am not “volunteering” per se, I am filling a niche this country desperately needs.

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  5. MsS says:

    OK – One more in agreement with everyone else! A seasoned international teacher made a comment that has stuck with me throughout my career – “We are guests in their country, it is not our job to make them see as we do”.
    Take the time to get to know your new community. Moving to a new country and job can be overwhelming, it will take time. I also very much support what John says about learning first. I was also very involved in programmes similiar to the ones you have mentioned and am inspired to give back. But, you have to understand that the world is not perceived in the same way by everyone.It does not work in the same way. Take the time to understand the people and way of life you are surrounded by – your efforts will be much more effective. MrsA has great advise as well.
    If you do want to do something unique during your holidays, Intrepid Travel offers volunteer experiences. You pay to “work”, AKA “give back” during holidays.
    Enjoy your experience!

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  6. Traveler says:

    It sounds to me like you want to get involved in community type projects in your host country.

    When I was in Romania I volunteered to help out at a local orphanage two days a week after school. In Guatemala I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity and got out there on weekends and help construct houses. I met some wonderful people, both local and foreign and am still in touch with a few of them to this day. In Africa I volunteered at an orphanage and played ball with the kids and did small art projects. There are so many things you can do to get involved and make a difference in a child’s life. Ask around, talk to parents at the school. There will already be a world of projects underway that you can contribute to.

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  7. John says:

    I agree with all the others. Your first duty is to your employer and my experience is very heavy work loads. “Africa” is a very misleading word. Are you going to be at an elite private international school in a major city of a relatively large country, or a village school and paid by a local government? Africa is Cairo, Soweto, Abidjan, Addis Abeba and Mombassa and experiences will differ accordingly. And I repeat: learn first; don’t go into any country with the hopes of raising awareness and eradicating corruption and injustice in the first month. You will not remain for the first month.

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  8. MrsA says:

    I agree with the above comments. I’m currently teaching in a school in Africa and my first year was overwhelming (it was my 2nd international post) in terms of workload and culture within the school and the local community. Get to know local teachers within your school – I’ve found them to be fantastic resources and connections to community outside of school. Also, they can be great advisors if you want to eventually start projects of your own.

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  9. sprocket says:

    I agree – take time to take stock and learn about your host community – I can guarantee your preconceptions will be wrong!

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  10. blackrabbit says:

    Teaching in another country is an incredible experience and might fulfill all your desires to help. You might have such a great workload in your school, you might not have the time or energy to put into other activities outside the school community.
    Make school your priority and then if you have extra time, learn slowly about your community outside of school and there you will have answers.

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