Through volunteering, far away places become real to us. Every day it seems like we’re hearing about another international conflict—another community struck by hardship. Some of the hardship is civil, between governments and citizens. Sometimes it’s environmental, the result of a drought or natural disaster. Whatever the calamity, it’s easy to feel disconnected, like these stories are happening in another world. We go about our lives focused on what we do—our work and our families—immersed in our own everyday dramas. But for those of us who have volunteered, international conflict affects us viscerally, in real and immediate ways. We know that each of these places is as real as our hometowns and our back yards. We don’t just know it intellectually, we know it in our bones. UBELONG is a volunteer organization focused on promoting this kind of understanding. Their mission is to create “a world where people are united behind their shared humanity and committed to working together for positive change.”
I think UBELONG embodies the best of all possible worlds. They are committed to grassroots action through experience to connect people. Their programs are demand-driven projects that focus on what communities need most. They work with established local NGOs to insure that their programs are sustainable, productive, and meaningful. UBELONG also encourages sharing between volunteers and community members to make the most of everyone’s unique interests and skills. They also believe that volunteering is as much about personal growth as it is about helping others. Each volunteer is a potential leader. Each person has his or her own journey of discovery ahead, and UBELONG is committed to that journey.
Another thing that sets UBELONG apart is its remarkably affordable rates. UBELONG is a social venture—a for-profit entity dedicated to doing as much as possible for as little as possible. Located in Washington D.C., UBELONG has access to a wide range of NGOs, embassies, and universities “that allow [them] to build the highest quality programs in the most cost-effective manner.” Their focus is on building their programs, not on marketing. As a business model, the social venture is ethically responsible. Something we have not come to expect from the for-profit sector.
UBELONG trips last from one week to six months. Anyone who is able-bodied is welcome to participate, including people with professional skills. They offer fundraising opportunities for volunteers who need a little help making their adventure happen. Read some reviews from UBELONG volunteers here.