Volunteering abroad

Volunteering overseas sounds like a great way to do some good and have a holiday. But who really stands to profit?
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04.Find a good volunteer placement

  • Do your homework before you go. Don’t assume all organisations are good simply because they offer volunteer projects that try to make a difference. It’s not hard for unscrupulous and misguided operators to start up.
  • Ask to speak with previous volunteers, preferably someone who’s been recently. 
  • Steer clear of popular tourist destinations.
  • Go with a company that’s directly engaged with projects rather than a company that outsources its volunteer opportunities to a local partner. 
  • NGOs and not-for-profit volunteer sending agencies are likely to have more useful projects.
  • Find out exactly what work you will be doing before you go to ensure that projects are actually in place. 
  • Steer clear of skills based projects (such as teaching English) unless you have those skills. Manual labour projects often provide something the community would not otherwise have the time to do.  
  • Avoid volunteering at orphanages unless you have significant time to commit. 
  • Wait until you arrive to book any optional extras like language classes or side trips as they’ll likely be cheaper.  
  • Vet the volunteer organisation using our checklist.
  • Read guidelines for tour operators: 

How to vet a volunteer abroad organisation

What are you paying for?

  • Is the volunteer organisation an NGO or for-profit?
  • What’s the specific breakdown of your volunteer fee? Are they transparent about this? How much goes towards your in-country living costs and the project compared with administration, project implementation and monitoring, volunteer recruitment and advertising?
  • What’s included with your volunteer fee? Insurance, 24-hour emergency contact, ground transport, flights, on-site staff, security?

Organisational involvement and community benefit

  • What work will you be doing exactly? 
  • Has someone from the volunteer abroad organisation been to visit the project? How often are they in contact with the project?
  • How long have they been running volunteer trips to the project you’ll be going to? 
  • Does the volunteer organisation have an ongoing relationship with the community or are they simply outsourcing you to a local partner?
  • Why is the work you’ll be doing critical to the project? Is it driven by local interests? Does it fit into a longer-term development plan?
  • Does the project promote self-sufficiency? Is it designed with an exit strategy?
  • How does the volunteer abroad company advertise the trip? Does it use “poverty marketing” to attract business rather than respect people’s dignity? Do they oversell it or are they realistic about your contribution? 
  • Is pre-trip cultural training provided? 
  • What monitoring mechanisms has the volunteer agency put in place to ensure the project continues to be useful?

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