Want some ideas for that year off after secondary school which you are now convinced you should take (mentioned in our previous column)? This article is about those experiences money can’t buy: the volunteer experience. Given the fact that volunteering is hard, unpaid, often more than full-time work, how do organisations manage to get volunteers? For high school graduates, a very practical reason for volunteering is that institutions of tertiary education, especially those in North America and Europe, are looking for more than just high grades on a transcript. The reality is all their applicants have high grades. College or university applicants who can show a range of experiences and who appear to be well-rounded, have a better chance of being admitted because they stand out. Plus, they probably also are a better risk: more likely to be able to cope with living on their own, better able to deal with the stress of tertiary education, more motivated because they have a clearer idea of their life goals. So these are the students who will most likely do better academically, complete the degree and make a name for themselves and the university.
At the University of Toronto, for instance, students regularly participate in experiences outside of the university and outside of formal classes. Students may participate in work projects abroad and engage in research projects with very practical applications or travel to remote areas of the country to work with under-resourced populations. These experiences are usually connected to their area of study and may influence their choice of graduate study programmes or the kind of work which they choose to do after graduation. Applicants who have shown that kind of initiative and interest even before entering university clearly fit the profile of a type of student which the University of Toronto prefers. This is another reason for volunteering: the chance to participate in work which would never otherwise be available to you. Options are limited for secondary school graduates with no other qualifications. When you choose to volunteer, on the other hand, there’s almost no limit to what you can do. So in exchange for your work and your time, you learn skills and have experiences which would normally be out of your reach.
Try to find experiences which are unique to Trinidad and Tobago, which can’t be matched elsewhere (like turtle-watching, for example). During turtle nesting season, there’s a need for volunteers to patrol the beaches to ensure the turtles’ safety while they make nests and bury their eggs, and to ensure that no-one interferes with the nests and eggs thereafter. There are miles and miles of beach to be patrolled and not many people to do the job. And how many places in the world are there where leatherback turtles nest? What about manatees? Native to these waters and those off the coast of Florida, but not found elsewhere, we believe. There’s a manatee conservation effort in Trinidad, very discreet so as not to attract the attention of any hunters. But it does exist and for anyone interested in marine biology, it’s a rare opportunity. Since we’re in the water already, what about the Caroni Swamp? Mangroves, wetlands, home to the scarlet ibis and site of uncounted CXC Biology field trips. It’s an invaluable resource for those interested in the environment. Our mangroves are important wetland resources and this has been recognised internationally. Find an environmental group which is working with these or doing research on them and participate. These are just a few of the local opportunities. There are regional opportunities as well, with organisations which work throughout the islands. Volunteering really takes you outside the box and outside the box is a great place to live.