NGOs and Charities: how to get involved

Volunteering: good for your CV and your health
Volunteering isn’t a one-way street. Whatever your motivation, giving up your time to help others can also bring huge benefits. Perhaps you’d like to enhance your employability or find a way to overcome the isolation that expats sometimes face while having the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a contribution. According to a recent study conducted by the UK based University of Lampeter, volunteering can even have a positive impact on your health.

The website www.volunteer.cz is a good starting point: it has a section where you can post some details about yourself and the kind of role you’re after as well as useful background information. The National Volunteer Centre’s website also has a section in English. Jobs.cz is primarily aimed at jobseekers but charities and NGOs sometimes advertise volunteer vacancies there too. However, these listings are in Czech and are therefore aimed primarily at Czech speakers.

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There’s no denying that would-be expat volunteers who speak the language have more options. Many opportunities which rely heavily on talking –  visiting patients in hospital for example – obviously require a high level of Czech. However, in this article I’ve tried to round up some of the possibilities accessible for those whose Czech hasn’t progressed much but are fluent in English.

Want the chance to get involved with a diverse range of projects from renovating sites of historical interest to organizing cultural events? Then try doing things a little differently or trochu jinak as they say in Czech. Organizations such as Duha (also called Trochu jinak) and INEX organize workcamps which take place both in ČR and in over 90 different other countries and usually last two weeks. If you are looking to dip your toe in the water before signing up long term, then Duha’s weekend-long workcamp scheme known as Tamjdem! could be for you. Participants could find themselves cleaning a circus tent, rebuilding a Buddhist community center or working with disadvantaged children. All those participating pay a small fee of between 200 – 350 CZK as a contribution towards food and accommodation.

If you’re aged between 18 –30, are an EU resident and able to commit 2 – 12 months of your time, the European Voluntary Service can help. The organization is responsible for helping EU citizens organize volunteer placements outside their own country within the Euro zone and beyond. While all placements are unpaid, the generous grants available to those eligible make this an attractive proposition: 90% of travel costs are covered, food and accommodation are included, free language classes are offered and a small allowance is also provided.

For those who are interested in volunteering in their local community, there’s no shortage of options. Prague Thrift Store is always looking for helpers to sort donations and lend a hand in their shop based at Šumavská 1050/29 in Vinohrady. By doing so you’d be supporting the International Women’s Centre of Prague and Azylový dům, a children’s home based in Kladno. Sue Ryder, a charity which supports seniors, also have English speaking volunteers assisting in their network of Prague-based thrift stores. If you have green fingers or are handy with a paintbrush, then why not consider doing something more hands-on at their residential care home instead? It needn’t mean giving up every spare waking moment after work. According to Renata Kolářová, the average time commitment is just 12 hours a month, although some only help out on a more sporadic basis. 

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If you’d like to do more to help the environment than just recycle, then WWOOFing could be for you. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms is an organisation which links aspiring eco-warriors with organic growers in need of volunteers.  In return for help, hosts offer food, accommodation and the chance to learn about ecologically sound farming first hand. Bohemiae Rosa, a sustainable farm based an hour from Prague, joined WWOOF earlier this year. Prospective farm hands are welcome to stay anywhere from one to six months or one weekend a month.

If you can’t find a role that appeals, then get proactive. Helen Ford, a keen culture buff, recently spent time behind the scenes at the Museum of Decorative Arts where she proofread guides, website information, and other English language materials.  Although the museum doesn’t advertise for volunteers on its website, Helen fired off a CV regardless. Her direct approach really paid off. “I think for people wanting to work in that environment it was great,” says Helen.

Whether your motivation is boosting your CV or giving something back, volunteering is a great way to gain new skills and get to know more about your host country firsthand. Make 2011, the European Year of Volunteering, the year you decide to make a difference.


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