Mita Biswas, having recently moved to Estonia, shares her experiences looking for volunteering opportunities in a society new to her.
After coming to a new place and spending a few months here, it was time for a reality check. I started to feel suffocated as I did not have a job and had neither family nor any friends around. I could not understand the local language and hence felt as an alien.
Somehow, I managed to pull myself up and go to a workshop. This helped me get back my confidence and understand that there were lot of people around me facing a similar situation. I started taking voluntary English classes for foreigners on my own. I learnt that there were plenty of people who needed that kind of help. And I got a stronger feeling within me that there is lot more to be done for people here, and that I have the skills and knowledge that can be useful.
I started looking for NGOs where I could join as a volunteer. But as I surfed the web, it started to get more and more confusing as there is loads of information and I could not understand what to do or who to turn to with the questions I had.
My journey in becoming a volunteer for an Estonian NGO taught me a lot and I hope I can be useful for others taking on a similar journey. From my personal experience I have some suggestions, which can be of use for people seeking volunteering opportunities and the NGOs who see a volunteer as a useful helping hand.
1. I recommend having a workshop or a counseling session before joining any NGO for residents or foreigners settling in Estonia. Some guidance should be given as to which type of NGO should one join and why. If counselled properly, this can help people to become lifelong volunteers. Volunteers who are already active can be very useful. The future volunteers should come prepared with questions and have their expectations thought through beforehand. This will save time for all parties involved.
2. Be prepared to set some time aside. There is a huge number of NGOs in Estonia. However, there is no single place, where all are listed with a category mentioning the type of work they do. You need to invest some time into browsing the web or just asking around. There are plenty of new residents contributing as volunteers. They would be happy to share their stories.
3. Many NGOs might have criteria in selecting their volunteers, but these are not properly specified anywhere. It is obviously for the betterment of the volunteer and the organisation itself to clarify these criteria. Volunteers should also think through what they could offer and how they can they be useful.
4. There are many projects the NGOs simultaneously operate with. Keeping an overview of them updated helps getting proper information. This would also allow volunteers to contribute to the projects they might feel interested in.
I frequently feel as a foreigner, and the biggest challenge is building up the confidence that you will be able to contribute even without knowing the local language. Volunteering for a local NGO can help achieve just that. One should not feel frustrated if upon mailing an NGO they don’t immediately reply. Just keep trying.
I had the opportunity to be a part of a project with an NGO, where I realised that so much work had to be done in very little time with few helping hands. That is the reality of local NGOs so help is direly needed. The NGOs have to keep in mind the preferences of different people, funders, government officials and so on. Manoeuvring between these expectations can be tiring for team members. We, the volunteers, can help.
During my experience with Estonian NGOs I have always encountered empathic and supportive people who have helped me in this journey. Therefore the bonus of becoming a volunteer is meeting beautiful people. The journey can be tricky but it is rewarding. Helping advance the local civil society, you will become part of the community yourself.
Network of Estonian Non-Profit Organizations and Estonian Village movement Kodukant are promoting voluntary work among newly arrived foreigners with funding from the Ministry of the Interior and European Social Fund.