Seven reasons to consider volunteering later in life

    Article by Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo

    Posted: May 22, 2019

    Millennials aren’t the only ones asking themselves what they can do to make the world a better place. More older adults are taking up the mantle of volunteer to use their valuable skills to make a difference.

    There’s no age limit for altruism. Mature adults have the same motivation to make a difference, but often have the advantage of more time, money and skills than their younger counterparts.

    If you have decades of life experience behind you and want to give back, consider these seven reasons why volunteering abroad for older adults is a great idea.

    1) You have more freedom


    Once you’ve retired, or your children have left home, you have the opportunity to take the time to do the things that are important for you – including volunteering abroad. Plus, when you do travel overseas to volunteer, you’ll be able to dedicate more time to your chosen project.

    Study commitments or other responsibilities mean younger people have limited time to volunteer. Younger volunteers often have to squeeze volunteer trips into university holidays or a few weeks of annual leave. As an older volunteer, you can stick around for longer and see the impacts of your actions over time.

    2) You have valuable skills


    One of the challenges of volunteering is that while people have great motivations, they can lack practical skills. GVI offers extensive training to volunteers, so prior experience isn’t necessary for most volunteer projects. However, the depth of experience that more mature travellers have to offer can surpass even the most rigorous training.

    Don’t underestimate what you have to offer. A career in medicine or education would clearly hold you in good stead as a volunteer. And if you have a career behind you in project management, construction, or childcare, for example, you have a lot to bring to overseas volunteer work for over 50s.

    For example, your years of life experience mean you’ll be able to tackle the organisational aspects of a teaching project in Nepal with ease, and maybe help guide your younger volunteer co-workers too.

    3) You’ll get to shorten your bucket list


    Studying, building a career and having a family are all time-consuming activities. You might have been so dedicated to following this traditional life path that you skipped past the travel opportunities. Ticking items off your bucket list isn’t only for millennials. It’s never too late to travel to destinations you’ve always dreamed of.

    Volunteering abroad will give your travel a purpose and help you to explore far-flung corners of the world with proper support.

    Follow your heart’s desires to the temples of Laos, or the savannahs of South Africa. Volunteer holidays for over 50s could be your chance to make your travel dreams come true.

    4) Learning a new language keeps your brain active


    Volunteer work abroad for older adults is an excellent chance to brush up on foreign language skills. Whether you’re starting from scratch or dredging up lessons from high school, practising another language will keep your brain active. This is one of the many health benefits of volunteering for older adults.

    A study at the University of Edinburgh has shown that learning a second language can improve cognitive abilities. It’s never too late to start learning and to slow brain ageing. Keeping your brain fit may even slow the onset of dementia.   

    A volunteer trip to Mexico could be the right time to take Spanish lessons and use your language skills in practical settings.

    5) You can expand your social circle


    It’s easy to stay within the comfort of your close circle of friends and family. It can be difficult to find opportunities to meet other like-minded people. Volunteering abroad will help to push you out of this comfort zone so you can meet and interact with people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

    When you step out of your social circle you’ll meet people who will challenge your ideas and teach you new ones. Meeting diverse people through your volunteer program can help you learn new ways of looking at the world and find out more about other cultures.

    Besides other volunteers, you could make friends with local teachers and form bonds with local program participants in projects where you work closely with the community. The health and wellbeing project in India, for instance, is an opportunity to be immersed in daily life in India.  

    6) You’ll be able to adapt quickly


    This probably isn’t your first rodeo. As an older traveller, you’ll be equipped to adapt to whatever is thrown at you when you’re volunteering abroad. You’ll probably have the patience, knowledge and maturity to see through difficult situations.

    Volunteering in healthcare in Southeast Asia, or tracking animals through the bushveld in South Africa, can be mentally and physically challenging. But if you’ve dealt with difficult tasks before, you’ll be able to manage these projects with greater ease.

    7) It’s never too late to learn something new


    It’s never too late to learn a new skill – in fact, just like language study, it might be beneficial for your health.

    An article published by Harvard Health states that learning can help with better mental functioning as you age. Challenging your brain with mental exercises can help maintain and grow brain cells and improve synapses between them.

    Volunteer projects that involve a new skill are a great way to stimulate your brain. For example, you could learn how to carry out research on wildlife in South Africa, or help to run health and life skills classes in Laos.

    GVI offers a number of international volunteer opportunities for older adults. Make the most of your experience and time, and search for a project that will enable you to make a difference while seeing the world.

    By Zaytoen Domingo

    Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.