Medical Student, Sinead, explains what it is like to volunteer for a summer while you are studying at college

Want to do something cool with your summer, but also want to do something worthwhile? I spent 3 months volunteering over the summer in India, working as a teaching assistant in a charity school in Delhi. During the week, I would help the teachers in the classroom and creating lesson plans, then at weekends I would be free to travel and see the sights that India has to offer. Interested? Keep reading…

There are a number of volunteer sending agencies – depending on what university you attend, you’ll probably have heard of different ones, and some may not be connected to universities at all! The type of placement differs – some people teach, others work in orphanages, some give IT classes, others build schools and hospitals, some may be medical placements in developing countries. I chose to travel with Suas – open to applications from students of any university, resulting in a diverse mix of backgrounds and experiences. I chose this sending agency as I thought a longer placement (of 10 weeks) would give more of a chance to work with the charity abroad, and hopefully leave a greater impact.

The application process begins around October, but often if short on volunteers applications can be accepted up til the first training days. The application is straightforward enough, with just a few questions asking things like why you want to volunteer, any relevant past experiences you have, what you hope to bring to the table, what you hope to get out of it, and any challenges you think you may face. After that, you may be called to interview in Dublin. The interview is composed partly of group interview, where as a small group you are presented a problem and have to reason it out amongst yourselves, followed by an individual interview delving further into your suitability for the role. Around December, you’ll find out whether or not you’ve been placed on a team!

I was assigned to a team in Delhi, where we would be working with the partner organisation Shine. In the coming months, we went through 3 volunteer training sessions. The first was a residential weekend, with all volunteers staying on Maynooth campus during the training, while the later weekends were located in Dublin city centre. The sessions were geared towards preparing us for the classroom setting, giving us a sample of global perspectives, laying down some HSS (health, safety and security) guidelines, sessions with past volunteers on what to expect, and finally a lot of team building sessions! It was a lot of information to take in all at once, but definitely useful when we arrived!

Image result for maynooth campus

In between these sessions, we were each kept busy preparing for the summer. We each had to fundraise a certain amount towards the placement and the partner charity, then there were plenty of vaccines to get, and of course visas to be sorted. Most people tried to get some sort of shadowing experience in a school before going, if at all possible. Some people were picking up useful items as they saw them along the way, others left the packing til last minute. Clothing, medications, teaching supplies – all were shoved into the bags any way they would fit in preparation for Delhi.

packing to go volunteer for the summer

After the months of getting ready, the big day arrived and the team met in the airport, laden down with bags and bags of supplies for the months ahead. Excited but nervous, we set off on our volunteering adventure. You can find out more about SUAS and how you can get involved with it here.