The Complete Guide to Volunteering in the Middle East
(we call it Experteering)
Anybody can visit The Middle East. But if you really want to experience the diverse cultures, old traditions, amazing food, and beautiful landscapes, you’ll have to do more that just find the right tour guide.
This region of the world is rich with startups, small business, nonprofits, and schools working on building a brighter future for the next generation. By sharing your business, professional, and/or technical skills with locally-led organizations, you can help them accelerate their progress. This sort of volunteering is commonly called skills-based volunteering or Experteering.
But, before jumping at the first volunteering project you see, here are some tips to make sure you have a safe, enlightening, and high-impact trip:
Finding the Right Volunteer Project in The Middle East
The Middle East has a lot of potential, but it is also known as being an area with some deep-rooted barriers from cultural and religious differences. This area is also know for having some of the worst under- and un-employement rates in the world.
But the Middle East is also beautiful. The myriad of cultures and ancient history has created rich stories, cuisine, and cultures. Like everywhere, its the people there that are the most inspiring. So when you search for a project in The Middle East, beyond ensuring that it is safe, and legitimate, make sure it can create a long-term impact, too. To ensure that a volunteering opportunity is legitimate, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this opportunity use my real skills?
- Is this something that a local could be doing? Is it possible that I’m taking a local job?
- Will the tasks I will be completing leave a lasting impact on the organization and the surrounding community?
- Are the goals and objectives I am being asked to complete locally driven?
- Is the host organization reputable?
There are many organizations that make sure the volunteering opportunities they post are through organizations that operate in an ethical and sustainable manner. Some include: VSO International (Voluntary Service Overseas), MovingWorlds, Cuso International, and Peace Corps.
Examples of Volunteering Projects in The Middle East
The Middle East’s influence has been felt around the around the world, but it still has a lot to do before reaching its full potential. With that in mind, there are lots of opportunities for skilled volunteers to make an impact. You can support startup accelerators empowering women, support job-readiness programs, and empower refugees to get back on their feet.
Best Practices While Volunteering in The Middle East
When you get to your destination, there is a right (and wrong) way to volunteer in a way that truly makes an impact. First, you should outline clearly defined goals that are created in partnership with your hosting organization. Beyond that, following these rules will help create positive outcomes for all parties:
- Support locally initiated projects, to make sure that the work will continue after you leave.
- Train local staff to take over your work so that the transition after you leave will be seamless.
- Spend more time teaching than doing.
- Do what’s best for the host organization, not what’s most interesting to you.
- Embrace cultural differences and discuss with your host the differences you might have, and how you can use those to your advantage.
- Check in with your team consistently to make sure everyone is on the same page about tasks and timelines for projects.
Take this free training for international volunteering best practices through Udemy, and review this complete guide to volunteering your skills overseas.
Cultural and Communication Tips to be an Effective Volunteer in The Middle East
It is important to understand the cultural differences that The Middle Eastern countries have from other parts of the world so that you can work and communicate effectively with your partners while you're abroad.
As an example, people in Lebanon, a Middle East country, tend to be hierarchical, focussed on the now, and act as part of a collectivist society: meaning they maintain a long-term commitment to their family and extended networks. According to Geert-Hofetede's cultural comparison
"People in such societies have a strong concern with establishing the absolute Truth; they are normative in their thinking. They exhibit great respect for traditions, a relatively small propensity to save for the future, and a focus on achieving quick results."
Use Kwintessential and other country-specific travel guides to learn more about customs and social norms.
Finishing Your Project and Recapping Your Story
When you return from your trip, try to keep in touch with your host organization: We like to say that success happens after you leave. By doing what you can to ensure your work lives on after you leave, you can make sure that the work you did made, and continues to make, a real impact.
You should also make sure to reflect on your experience during and after your overseas experience. There are several reflection strategies you can use to promote your own learning and improve happiness. You should also be sharing your stories with as many people as possible about your experience with the aim to inspire others to go volunteering abroad and do good, just like you!
Share your story with the #Experteering hashtag.
Additional Tips While Volunteering in The Middle East
Here are some additional resources to help you plan, fund, and prepare for your trip, if you do decide to travel and volunteer in The Middle East:
The Middle East is a beautiful part of the world, and despite common perception in western media, has many safe zones and welcome people. With projects starting as short as 1 week, you can make an impact and transfer skills while on vacation or during a short sabbatical. We hope this guide will help you find the right projects, ensure the work you do is sustainable, and communicate effectively with your host organization.
If you go on an adventure to The Middle East we know you love the experience, much like one of our previous Experteers, Ali, did.