Volunteer Stories

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Many of us loll around dreaming of chucking in the day job and hitting the road for a life of adventure.

But how many of us consider a long term placement volunteering abroad? This Comhlámh project set out to explore the motivations of those that do.

Comhlámh member Nahid Dabiri threw in the towel at high tech IBM to take up a 12 month placement with Caritas in Eastern Africa. Now she is working on a project to document the experiences of returned development workers. Nahid recalls how she first volunteered in 1995. Leaving for a month in Peru with Operation Mato Grosso.  It was a life changing experience.

I was studying Sociology and went overseas as support primary school teacher with no idea on what I was going to experience. I did not change the world but I changed my own world and came back with a better understanding of the hard life Peruvian campesinos have to face every day.

With the volunteering bug in her blood, Nahid threw herself into working in the Oxfam Fair Trade shop in Dublin, before a stint took her to Eastern Africa. Within the development scene, people speak of reverse culture shock and Comhlamh provides courses in how to cope. Volunteers find themselves immersed in a whole new way of being while their friends lives remain static. Nahid described coming back from Uganda:

 “Things here were changed, I was mainly changed and  interested to get involved in development once returned in the western world.  I met several returnees and  had the chance to listen to amazing stories about their experience overseas, every story was inspirational on how changes are coming from simple actions and common people when the north and the south of the world is linked together.


Nahid pictured here on the left with Deirdre Kettlewell.

Nahid pictured here on the left with Deirdre Kettlewell.

These stories provided a rare source of support and empathy. And now she wants to collate more of them so others can benefit. To do so she is teaming up with Jekaternine Savelijeva (Kate), an award winning photojournalist with a Simon Cumber award behind her for her work the care of vulnerable orphans in Tanzania.   While never officially volunteering, Kate’s done her bit. She told us:

I’m not always very organised when it comes to applications and forms, but I have done a lot of work that involved sharing my experience and knowledge without any monetary compensation.  I think this project is pretty unique. There are few countries in the world that are as safe as Ireland still is in many ways, and photojournalism rarely turns to the positive aspects of our lives.”

The pair have plans for an exhibition, a photo essay book and more. You can check out more of Kate’s work here.

Have a read.


Anne Deigan – Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Palestine

The most valuable aspect of volunteering was the communal aspect. All of us are stronger/smarter than one of us. When we worked as a team we made good decisions and kept ourselves safe.

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 Sara McMurry, EIL, India

My volunteering experiences have been so rewarding, and I have left friends there with whom I am still in contact via email. I would encourage anyone who can get away for at least a few weeks to volunteer – and age is no barrier!

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 Fiona Craven, VSO, Guyana

For anybody considering an adventure I would say go for it. I have been able to share my skills and help make a real and lasting difference to local communities, but I also learnt so much from my time out there.

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  Meave McCutcheon, VSO India, Delhi.

When I got back, I slipped into my old life very quickly- I arrived home on a Wednesday and was back in work on Monday. It took a while to fit all the old jigsaw pieces with the new. I travelled home with different stories, experiences and perspectives and I needed to find an outlet for these. I completed a “What Next?” course with Comhlamh which helped me figure something outs.

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 Mary Pierce, VSO, Zanzibar, Tanzania

In general, it was great project to be involved in as it epitomised what development should be about – in effect I was made redundant as the local staff became skilled and a qualified, local librarian, took over from me.

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 Roser Barcelo – Otra Cosa Network, Peru.

The most important advice I can give to other future volunteers is to be open and flexible, and most importantly, to be willing to understand how people think; communication and mutual understanding is the key for a good exchange.

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 Jessica Grene – Bruce, Peru.

Even people who have traveled in Peru rarely see the kind of poverty that exists on the outskirts of the cities. It’s possible to see the wonderful sights of Peru, such as Machu Piccu, without becoming aware of the desperation that many people of the country are living in.

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 Niamh Kelly, Coral Cay Conservation, Philippines.

My most recent volunteering experience was in the Philippines working as an Education Officer for a coral reef conservation group. My role was to enhance people’s awareness of the incredible diversity of the coral reefs in their marine environment and to teach them the importance of conservation.

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 Elaine Doyle, EIL, Guatemala

I was granted the EIL Global Awareness Program (GAP) award for 2013 to travel to Guatemala for eight weeks to work on sustainable development projects.

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 Laura Abecasis, EIL, India

I haven’t always had the best ideas in my life, but I have to say this one was a good one! Volunteering in India. Volunteering, where I come from (France), is not very popular. I had lived in Ireland for 2 years (a dream of mine) and knew I would be happy to stay. However I had another dream: to become a volunteer, and it was the perfect time to go for it. I could even combine it with the fascination I had for India, a fascination that had led me to follow a course of Hindi at the Sandford Institute in Dublin.

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 Siobhan Hughes, EIL, South Africa

I have always had an interest in international development. My interest ignited in 2006 when I travelled to India with the Hope Foundation to see what their work entailed. When I completed my Leaving Certificate in 2008, I knew that development was my passion and so I began studying International Development and Food Policy in University College Cork.

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 Etienne Corish, EVS, Germany

“Have you heard of the European Voluntary Service?” asked Ita, my aunt, during the second last week of August. I hadn’t. Just after my Leaving Cert, I could not make up my mind what to do. Theoretical physics? Engineering? In France? In Ireland? As well as having to choose which course to study, it was also a choice of which country to live in, my mother being French and my father Irish. Both decisions seemed impossible to make and had been haunting me for months.

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 Nahid Dabiri, Volunteer Missionary Movement, Uganda

There are places in the world that remind us of Ireland; western Uganda is one of those and is located in the southern hemisphere. The capital, Kampala, is approximately 6800 km from Dublin. If you do not consider the picturesque Mountains of the Moon and the lush tropical vegetation, the rains and the green meadows bring to mind the Irish countryside.

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Volunteer Stories Video.


These video interviews were recorded in Dublin in 2014 as part of the Volunteer Stories project.

They are a small contribution to all the stories that haven’t been told yet. What brings some people to decide to do some unpaid work? How they decide to volunteer? What are the challenges they are facing? How they cope with the coming home process?

Tobia Serotini is a young Italian passionate video maker that works mainly on social issue. He studied communication and photography in Italy and works as a freelance photographer and video maker.

Nahid Dabiri facilitated the encounter between the volunteers and Tobia, she is a passionate volunteer and is currently spending sometime in Uganda.

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