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Volunteer for Special Needs

Volunteering for special needs is a highly rewarding and challenging experience at the same time...

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Excellent 4.8 (30)
148  per week · 4  ‑  12  weeks · Age  18+ · Has Wifi

Volunteers will assist with daily tasks in a special needs center for young adults such as creative workshops, desk support or helping in therapy & educational services.

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Fantastic 4.5 (48)
275  per week · 4  ‑  24  weeks · Age  18+ · Has Wifi

Show your compassion for children and adults with disabilities by teaching them different subjects, participating in recreational activities, and providing therapy.

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Volunteer work for Special Needs

Why become a Special Needs volunteer?

Let’s start by defining what we understand under special needs. Those with special needs are set back due to limitations in one or more of the following aspects:

  • Physical
  • Emotional
  • Behavioral
  • Learning disability

Because of their disabilities, people with special needs require additional or specialized services or accommodation to be able to engage in daily activities.

Children with disabilities require extra care and attention because they are more vulnerable in our society and don’t get the chances others do.

  • According to the WHO, children with disabilities are 4 times more likely to encounter violence than those without a disability.
  • 15% of the world population lives with a disability and the global estimate for disabilities is forecasted to rise due to the rapid spread of chronic illness and improved measurement systems.

When kids with special needs get denied an education along with the attention they desperately need to develop, their chances of life decrease resulting in:

  • delayed emotional and physical development
  • social isolation
  • psychological disorders.

Those with special needs require extra care and attention that isn’t always easy to come by in developing countries. Thankfully, there are external organizations that have set up programs to help. Despite the good intentions of these programs, kids don’t always receive the attention they require due to limited resources.

Different programs have other goals depending on their focus group. Programs may focus on the following:

  • Education
  • Restoring mental health
  • Teaching
  • Guiding disabled individuals toward:
    • Suitable jobs
    • Building self-confidence
    • Becoming more independent

Who can volunteer for Special Needs?

Working on a special needs program requires a unique set of characteristics as well as certain qualifications. This is important to ensure the wellbeing of the kids and to protect them from unqualified or even harmful people. Each project has a list of requirements upon joining them. The qualifications you will need to prove “on paper” aside, there are some personal qualities you have to bring to the table as well.

When working at a program with infants, there will be stricter rules but this needs to be verified in greater detail with the organization. In any case, volunteers have to agree to a criminal background check prior to joining a project working with children. Organizations very carefully select volunteers they find suited for their work. Volunteers with experience in childcare or who have a background in psychology, education or counseling are welcomed with open arms on most special needs volunteer opportunities.

Special needs volunteers also need to be aware that special needs volunteer opportunities with disabled children or adults may impact them emotionally. There have been volunteers that have said they simply weren’t prepared for the experience because it’s a lot to take in on an emotional level. We strongly recommend all volunteers to do thorough research prior to volunteering with kids abroad. It’s important to understand what lies ahead and what you can expect from this volunteer experience with people who have disabilities.

To find out whether you fit the requirements of the program, here is a list of characteristics which are good to have when deciding to volunteer with people who have disabilities. Have a look and think about whether or not you fit this description. You will need:

  • a caring and patient naturem
  • good communication skills
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • the capacity to think on your feet and stay calm in stressful situations
  • Adaptability
  • Great with kids
  • Experience with special needs children
  • Background in education or psychology
  • imagination and creativity
  • good organizational and time management skills
  • enthusiasm
  • resilience
  • a non-judgmental approach and respect for diversity
  • a professional attitude to work
  • a strong regard for health and safety

Languages

A good knowledge of the English language is important to be able to communicate with other staff and volunteers on the program. In some cases, like South America, it’s encouraged to have a basic understanding of Spanish. It will help with getting around and make communicating with the local team members, who often lack English skills, much easier.

Less experienced volunteers

There are organizations that will happily welcome volunteers who are excited to entertain the children, even if they don’t have previous work experience in this field. In this case, your responsibilities will be limited and focused on entertaining and giving kids attention. This is what most people with disabilities lack and is where volunteers can play a very important role.

Students

Students who are studying in the field of psychology or education may be able to gain credits if the special needs volunteer work and program is acknowledged by their university. This is an excellent opportunity to combine the best of both worlds.

As a special needs volunteer you will gain invaluable work experience abroad on one of the many projects.

What tasks do I have as a Special Needs volunteer?

You will spend most of your time getting to know the children or adults and supporting their main caretakers in their everyday work tasks. There may be projects that involve adults but most projects offer opportunities that involve work with children. On top of that, you will engage the kids in activities or assist them with school work. As a special needs volunteer, you will supply essential care and attention to the children. Your main aims will be the following:

  • Help provide essential support to special needs kids
  • Teach disabled children or adults important skills
  • Entertain them and brighten up their day
  • Expose them to a different culture

During your volunteering journey, you will contribute to this valuable cause in a number of ways and you can expect to undertake the following tasks:

  • Planning educational games
  • Supporting daycare staff prepare meals
  • Helping with caretaking activities
  • Playing and interacting with the kids and or adults
  • Teaching basic classes, for example, teaching them colors, shapes, numbers

It’s good to have a flexible attitude when you are a special needs volunteer. Schedules may change so volunteers are required to help with a variety of tasks ranging from caretaking to entertaining the kids. These tasks will differ depending on the projects so definitely have a look at the different programs and what they are looking for.

Volunteers will have the best experience when adapting to the local culture and helping out with daily activities as much as possible. Approach your volunteer experience with a healthy work ethic, dedicate yourself to the activities involving the children and most importantly work towards giving them a good time. After the workday is done, you’ll be free to explore the area and dive into the local life!

Best places for Special Needs volunteers

There is a broad choice of organizations worldwide who are helping children with special needs and need support from enthusiastic volunteers. This means you can choose to go anywhere you like. Consider all developing regions. Asia, Africa and South America are equally challenging and interesting locations to embark on this life-changing experience. Select a destination that fascinates you and set out to make a difference in the lives of the children on site. Pick a place where you feel comfortable and safe.

South America

Volunteers who want to brush up on their Spanish can head to Latin America and explore natural gems like Costa Rica and Guatemala or opt for cultural hotspots like Ecuador, Peru and Chile. There are so many opportunities available. Each offering a truly unique experience.

Europe

Special needs volunteers are required in all parts of the world. If you would like to discover one of the most touristy destinations on our planet, head to Italy. Those who prefer to travel off the beaten track, Albania is an upcoming alternative that is not yet overwhelmed by mass tourism.

Africa

Projects in India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia are awaiting enthusiastic volunteers too. Head to this peace-loving continent and discover the beauty that lies within this versatile culture.

Asia

The greatest amount of volunteer organizations are available in Africa. Head to Ghana, South Africa, Kenya or Zimbabwe or even Morocco to pursue you volunteer adventure abroad.

All destinations are in need of volunteers who are eager to work with special needs. Each location has a unique culture and environment which is worth exploring. Combine this experience of volunteering with kids or adults with opportunities to discover a new place in the world you have always wanted to explore.

5 benefits of volunteering for Special Needs

We are convinced that there are mainly benefits related to volunteering. Although you’ll definitely be helping out the organization and community by dedicating some of your precious time, let’s take a closer look at the opportunities that will unfold for you. Here are five benefits of volunteering abroad for special needs:

Make new friends

Besides the people on the project you’ll be working with, you’ll be surrounded by other volunteers and locals who are passionate about the same thing you are. These unique life experiences are bound to forge meaningful relationships you will look back on with a smile.

Grow as a person

Getting out of your comfort zone will give you a sense of empowerment which will continue to push you forward in life. Taking on responsibility for other people and putting their needs before your own will also help you discover a new side of yourself.

Explore new destinations

If you’re a bit of an adventurer, nothing will stop you from discovering your amazing surroundings. Volunteering with children will most likely lead you to one of the developing countries that are in need of assistance. Whether it is in South America, Africa or Asia, you will get to explore your host country through the eyes of a local rather than a tourist.

Learn more about a new culture

Wherever you decide to volunteer with children, you will be diving right into a new culture and it is the perfect opportunity to broaden your horizon. If you are willing to approach this adventure with open arms and an open mind, you will learn from the community you volunteer in and get a new perspective on life in general.

Boost your career

Volunteers looking to pursue a career working with children will benefit greatly from this opportunity abroad. This could possibly count as an internship if acknowledged by your university or college. Of course, this depends on your field of studies. Nonetheless, volunteering experiences are always highly appreciated by future employers as they portray the willingness to contribute and help out along with a strong social awareness and sense of responsibility.

How do I get started?

Don’t hesitate to embark on this journey and take a look at the different special needs volunteer opportunities available around the world!

Once you’ve selected a few projects that spark your interest, let’s take a look at the first 3 steps which will send you on your way to volunteering with special needs:

  1. Check whether there’s a match between the project abroad and your skills.
  2. Take a look at the location of the project and decide whether it would be a location you are willing to travel to.
  3. Get in touch with the organization abroad and see whether your expectations and your schedule match up.

Once you know your destination, take the following steps before setting off on your life-changing adventure!

  1. Look into the visa requirements for the country you will volunteer in.
  2. Make sure you have a valid passport.
  3. Be sure to get travel and health insurance for your time abroad.
  4. Check which vaccinations are required in the country you will be visiting.

There are a variety of projects focused on kids with special needs in less fortunate parts of our planet. If you need support finding the right project abroad for you please let us know, we are more than happy to assist you!