It is a fantastic step forward that travellers now think outside the box when researching their next destination. Instead of simply sweeping through the top tourist spots, travellers often want to give something back to the countries they visit. It can be a nerve-wracking prospect, but stepping out of one’s comfort zone is the best way to travel. There are many options out there for the budding volunteer, so how do you choose the project that is right for you? Follow the simple steps below, and find your perfect volunteer placement.
Step 1: What is Your Passion?
Are you passionate about animal care, child care, women’s rights, teaching English, medical and health, care for the elderly, environmental conservation, sports, art and music, special needs, archaeology, construction, or anything else you can think of? Identifying the area of work you would like to experience is the first step towards finding your perfect placement. Because if your heart isn’t in it, there is no point in doing it!
Step 2: Where in the World?
Are there any countries you are particularly interested in? Remember, you can find volunteer positions in pretty much every country in the world, but developing countries are usually the ones that will benefit the most from your help. Don’t let it put you off following your passion though: if your dream is to volunteer on a farm in Australia- do it! If you are struggling to think of which country to go for, think about which cultures, languages, music and dance you like, so that you can experience these things too.
Step 3: What is the Cost?
Work out your budget for the entire trip and research placements accordingly. Some companies charge a lot for the food, accommodation, administration, and the cost usually includes a donation to the cause. Other companies are much more reasonable, with the costs simply covering basic food and accommodation. If you have a particular organisation in mind, contact them directly to see if you can volunteer for free, if you can organise your own accommodation. Some organisations will offer volunteer positions or internships with more structure and responsibility. If this is the case they usually charge extra, for the experience you will gain. They usually ask for a specific skill set or previous experience. Make sure the organisation is upfront and open about where all the money you pay ends up.
Step 4: How Ethical is the Organisation?
Probably the most important step of all: once you have found a placement you are interested in, research it! Look at the website: does it only have photos of children in poverty? Images of happy people working alongside volunteers are much more encouraging. Do they use positive words to describe the placement? Companies describing people as ‘poor and in need’ are best to avoid. Look carefully at reviews, and ask the company for contact details of previous volunteers if you would like more confirmation. Don’t be put off going for smaller organisations, if they seem positive: go for the look and feel of the organisation, rather than its reputation. Look if the website has a Child Protection Policy, and any other policies they may have. Read them!
Step 5: How Can You Help?
Be wary of organisations that ask few questions about you, and are prepared to put you into placements that you have little experience in. Organisations that take the time to get to know their volunteers, and place them according to their particular skill set, are much more worthy of your time. Ensure they are upfront about what you will be doing, what your hours are, what training you receive, and what support you get while on the placement. Also find out what the placement is actually achieving: what are the needs of the local community; ensure you are not taking work away from locals by volunteering; and how does the company protect the environment. Asking these questions will ensure the organisation you volunteer for is ethical AND will look after you.
Follow these steps and follow your passions. The best thing to remember is that if it feels right: go for it! Put your whole self into the work and you will get so much out of it. Enjoy yourself!