chevron-down chevron-left chevron-right chevron-up home circle comment double-caret-left double-caret-right like like2 twitter epale-arrow-up text-bubble cloud stop caret-down caret-up caret-left caret-right file-text

EPALE - Electronic Platform for Adult Learning in Europe


Volunteering for the Future: Upskilling International Volunteers as Active Citizens on International Development Issues

by Sinead Whitty
Language: EN


International Volunteers

We are on a journey. A learning journey.  A learning journey with insights from European partners, with tales from global south overseas volunteering experiences, and with the aim of nurturing the transformative potential of these experiences into a deepened sense of identity as active global citizens.

Thanks to Erasmus+ funding, Comhlámh is in the midst of a project called ‘Volunteering for the Future’ – named as such to reflect the huge potential for lifelong learning that is possible for individuals returning from volunteering placements in the global south. While the stint overseas is one significant (and often life-changing) chapter in someone’s journey, the motivation to volunteer often starts long before they get on that plane and – the part that we are interested in – what happens when they come home? How can we maximise the energy, the inspiration, the anger and the commitment that can get sparked during an overseas experience? Where is the learning about global justice, climate change, the role of people in the global north in sustaining underdevelopment, and how can returned volunteers be the activators to animate people this side of the world to get active on such issues? How, in short, can we help to equip people with competencies that will enable them to participate as active global citizens throughout their lives?

That is the question that we are working out with three other partners – from Czech Republic, Germany and UK – and we are gaining some interesting insights, outputs, and unexpected learnings along the way.

From the project point of view, the resource of having international perspectives to collaborate with is an invaluable part of our research, our training manuals, and the way we facilitate our courses. Every project should have this! As a result, the outputs we have so far created are a testament to this team working, getting the creative best out of the respective organisations and fusing these into resources that will be made available across Europe and disseminated through the different multiplier events.

Then there is the European ‘learning’. Before entering into this project, I had underestimated the delicious cultural learning opportunities that emerge from working with people from different contexts to ours. It really does show how diversity should be assumed, not as a token ‘add-on’, but that this is the way we should be doing our work and living our lives. All our work is richer for collaborating with people who think just that bit differently to us. The concept of ‘volunteer’ changes depending on which cultural context you are looking at it from, and the motivation to volunteer is often very different according to each country (and then again, according to each individual within these contexts). And while we have found significant differences between the definition  of active citizenship in our partner countries (see page 6 of our research report).  We have been able to identify key recommendations for improving how it is fostered in returning international volunteers.

The transnational meetings – while also bringing a huge amount of energy to the project as we are together, thinking, acting, doing, planning – are a wonderful space for these little bits of ‘magic’ to emerge. This includes both insights of learning through the project’s activities (“how can we capture that!?”) as well as the insights gained through conversations at tea breaks and after work.

We would like to thank Léargas for all the support in enabling us to get to this stage and Erasmus+ for the funding to make the project possible. We are only mid-way through but already the outputs and the learning have been invaluable.

More info about the project and the resources we’ve developed is available here.

Grainne O’Neill (

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Epale SoundCloud Share on LinkedIn Share on email