Volunteer travel: Part I– Before you embark on your journey

Lately there has been a lot of discussions around the dangers of volunteer travel or voluntourism.  As a volunteer, I have to make sure that I give and get most from my international volunteering assignment. It may not always be wise to leave everything to the organisation. Responsible Volunteering is as much our responsibility as of the organisation we volunteer through and volunteer for. Taking the idea further, we are putting together the dos and don’ts (actually more like dos; the don’ts would be the opposite of these!)of volunteer travel – before, during and after the project in a 3-part series. Here is Part I – Before.

4 steps before you start on your dream volunteer travel

Step 1: Identify your skills

Step1-skills identification; 4 steps before you start your volunteer travel

Identify your strengths and the skills you would want to volunteer for and choose an appropriate volunteering project. This way you will be able to maximize your contribution and enjoy your project. Not everyone can teach children, build boats, make budgets or provide medical care. It’s important to match your skills and project. I enjoy playing with children so I volunteer for recreational activities for children but another friend is not a people’s person so she helps out in increasing the efficiency of the organisation’s administration and reach like building a website.

Step 2: Research the organisation you want to volunteer through

Step2-research the volunteer placement organisation; 4 steps before you start your volunteer travelThere are many non-profit and for-profit organisations that offer volunteer travel projects of different time periods in many developing countries. These organisations would charge you a fee for volunteering (and some can be very high!). The fee would cover the cost incurred by the organisation in arranging for your project (food, lodging safety etc…), a part of it might be going to the project directly and a part would cover their administration cost and profits (in case of a for-profit organisation).

Going through a volunteer management organisation would mean that you will have a structured program and a point of contact in your host country, which can be very important. Choose your organisation based on recommendations, the kind of projects, countries of placement, matching process, fee etc. Lattitude, UK, provides some useful tips on how to choose the right volunteer placement organisation.

Step 3: Research the host organisation and country

Step3-Research the host organisation & country; 4 steps before you start your volunteer travelIf you are going through a volunteer placement organisation, they will match you with their partner organisation in the host country. But you may also choose to directly contact an organisation in the country you want to volunteer in, like what Marianne Elizabeth did. In both cases (more so in the latter) it is important to research about the organisation and their work. Read feedback of returned volunteers, blogs are a great source, talk to them about their own experiences in the country. Many a times media might present a different image… as Dunya Carter mentions in her article she would never have gone to Serbia if she believed all media reports and didn’t take personal recommendations.

It is also important to learn about the cultures and customs of the host country. You will enjoy your experience more if you live and work with the locals as one of them and not as an outsider. Knowing that you made an effort to learn their customs will also win you their respect and trust.

Step 4: Raise the funds

Step4-Fundraising for your voluntourism project;4 steps before you start your volunteer travelVoluntourism projects are not cheap. I have seen figures like $1500 for 4 weeks plus weekly charges. Do your math for the amount of money you will need for your entire stay plus some emergency money. If you have the money, you are good. Else gear up for some serious fundraising 🙂

There are a lot of ways you can raise funds. I once baked muffins and sold it in my father’s office to raise funds for a project. Participating in walks and marathons are also great opportunity to raise money. Spread the word, reach out to more and more people… Think of creative ways to fund-raise  like the guy below!

Now-a-days there are also crowd funding websites where you can raise money for your dream project. Two websites specially designed for travel are – Volunteer Forever and Fund My Travel.

Innovative ways of fund raising for your project
Birds of Hope volunteer raising funds by distributing Canadian Hugs!

Now that your research is done; you have chosen your organisation and the host country; your skills are matched well and you have also got the money it’s time to get going! Give and get back the most from your international volunteering project!

I would just want to repeat – Do your research. Research the country you want to volunteer in and the organisation you want to volunteer through and for.

Ask a lot of questions. Reach out to people who have done this before you.

Most importantly,

Do Volunteer

Do Good

Do Enjoy!

and do share your tips and thoughts with us so that we can better this article!

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