I’ve written a lot about the benefits of volunteering for families: parents see their children working hard, children are inspired to make a difference, and grandparents have a chance to experience their family in a new way, as a working whole. Volunteering trips overseas transform a family into a team. This same principle applies to unrelated groups of volunteers. Any group can reap the rewards of working together for the greater good. It brings out the best in everyone—the diligent worker, the gregarious conversationalist, the foreign language enthusiast, the goof ball—no skill set goes to waste when you’re exploring a new place and meeting new people.
If you have a group of friends and you’re all living separate lives in different states, consider coming together on neutral ground, in Africa or Asia or Central America, to work together on something important. It’s easy to feel disconnected to the people we love the most. I met most of my closest friends in college and we’re scattered across the country. We keep in touch online and talk on the phone but we haven’t all been together in one place since we graduated. It’s hard to plan something with so many conflicting schedules. I know an international volunteering trip would motivate all of us. We all love to travel and all need some time off from work. Volunteering together would bring out all of the great old dynamics. I know it would challenge each of us and that we would have to rely on each other’s skills in new ways.
For groups of co-workers, volunteering can radically change office dynamics. In an office setting people are rarely able to completely relax. There aren’t a lot of opportunities to sit around a table over a home-cooked meal or to take on a physical challenge as a group. Chances are you probably don’t know a whole lot about the person who sits next to you every day and she probably doesn’t know a whole lot about you. Maybe she speaks some French, is a fantastic dancer, can cook up a feast, or is great at reading a map. These aren’t skills we use in the office but they are most certainly skills we use during a volunteering trip in a new place. When you learn complexities of character you naturally gain respect. That respect will travel back to the office with you after the trip. It may create a closeness and camaraderie your office lacked.
Many volunteer organizations offer trips for groups. United Planet has group programs you can join or you can create your own custom program. Cross-Cultural Solutions also offers group volunteering packages.