A simple search on the internet for volunteer programs abroad is likely to yield thousands of companies peddling volunteer experiences in some of the world’s poorest countries. Some programs even cost thousands of dollars and might not make sense and even discourage you from doing any work. However, it is quite possible to find ethical, quality options for travelers interested in volunteer work. Finding them is tougher than it should be.
Traveling and volunteering can be confusing considering the unclear ethics, number of options available and exorbitant fees. With these in mind, here are five clear steps that will show you how to locate and vet good-fit international volunteer programs abroad.
Step 1: Understanding Development and Aid
The hardest thing you are likely to find out is that not all organizations (including non-profits) do good. Some programs do not ethically help in the development of ecosystems and communities where you volunteer your time. Good starting points include understanding the core problems facing development projects as well as why they need to bring in western ideas and volunteers.
Step 2: Choosing a Volunteering Opportunity that is a Good-Fit
Once you have a clear idea of what the volunteering work entails, assess your time commitment and personal motivations. The following are the most common types of volunteer opportunities available:
- Independent volunteering is ideal for a long-term traveler and for those with a flexible round-the-world trip with no clear idea where and when they will be traveling. Such volunteer opportunities require arranging for your food, accommodation and travel. You also work directly with the organization on a hands-on level
- Placement companies act as the intermediaries and charge a fee to match you up with a volunteer project with medium level facilitation
- Voluntours offer a high level of facilitation and are best for short vacations where you can work in various sites
- Social enterprises are best for individuals considering volunteering for very short periods. This type of volunteer work involves identifying your local businesses, shops and restaurants with underlying social missions and contributing your money to the cause
Step 3: Researching Organizations
Part of finding the perfect volunteer opportunity entails carrying out research on organizations you are interested in working with. One good source is volunteer databases that list the projects within your interest area. Such websites allow you to sort through the different types of volunteering and requirements.
Step 4: Asking the Right Questions
The next step is vetting the programs/projects you have identified in step 3. Vetting involves asking the volunteer organization a series of questions. Some of the core issues that you should expect your program to answer include:
- Where does the money go?
- How is the program working with the local community?
- What are volunteers expected to do?
Step 5: Take a Breath and Relax
Once you have picked your volunteer opportunity, relax before tackling the planning phase and other practicalities. It is easy for you to get lost in the details; however, the end goal is more rewarding.
Involvement Volunteers Association Inc. (IVI) is a non-profit organization that offers volunteer programs abroad for retirees, groups, travelers, disaster relief parties, and corporate professionals. With over 300 volunteer abroad programs, IVI caters for various experiences, needs, and budgets. Depending on the country you choose, IVI provides long-term, standard and specialty placements.