Volunteering for a local organisation while travelling abroad has become increasingly popular in the past years. This also means that more and more organisations and companies have found an opportunity to earn a lot of money in this particular market. While you as a future volunteer can have the best intentions to support and be part of a given organisation or programme, it doesn’t always mean that those projects you decide to support have the same honourable intentions.
WorkingAbroad has been working with volunteers since 1997 and our main objective is to offer meaningful opportunities to volunteers, who want to make an actual difference in a local community. We place high importance on the quality of the local organisations that we partner with. Our partners are always fully registered, on-the-ground respected operators with well-trained staff, who will support the volunteers before and during their stay. We keep the prices fair and always have in mind what we offer volunteers in relation to food, accommodation etc, which we are not interested in cutting down on to get lower prices.
We are a smaller company, but have close relations to our volunteer partners abroad. We have all visited given programmes at some point, and taken part as volunteers whether it being alone or with our family. We not only have close contact with our project managers at the local organisations, but we also have the personal experience and know-how of being volunteers.
In February 2017, we took part in the first ever held Compass Ethical Travel and Volunteering conference. It was held in Birmingham and Charlotte from WorkingAbroad was invited to speak about what to look out for when volunteering abroad and what questions to ask volunteer agencies and companies. You can find our answers to all of these important questions below.
We’ve taken the Claws Out pledge to help IAPWA tackle lion exploitation. Will you join us? Find out more about this campaign and take the pledge here: https://iapwa.org/claws-out/
We also recently had the opportunity to contribute to a highly important documentary by Claws Out about lion exploitation and its links to the volunteering industry, featuring the co-founder of WorkingAbroad Vicky McNeil. We have been vocal for years about ending this horrible industry and holding the volunteering industry accountable. You can view the documentary below:
DO your research – BE critical – ASK questions!
When making the decision to spend your money and time on volunteering abroad, it is important to do your research and ask all the relevant questions. We think the following questions are important to have clarified, and we have also provided our answers below:
- What is the purpose of your volunteering?
You will be able to find the goal and purpose of our programmes under each project description on the individual project pages on our website. You will be able to read in detail what projects you will be contributing to and why you are there. You also have the email on the individual project coordinators, who will be able to answer any further questions you might have.
- Where's the money going?
At each programme on our website, you can find what the fee that you are paying goes towards and what you’d need to pay extra. On some of the programmes, you’ll be able to see in detail what the volunteer fees are used for.
- How long has the agency been around?
VWIS was establised in 1997 and moved to the UK in 2000 renamed WorkingAbroad
- Is there in-country and agency support provided when volunteering?
When you book a volunteer trip with us, you are always able to reach your contact person at WorkingAbroad, and you will have all contact information on the local project managers on the programme you are going to work on.
- Does the agency assess your application?
When you make an application to join one of our volunteer programmes, we will assess your application alongside the local project manager. The local project manager will have the final word on whether we will accept your application or not for the given project, as they are able to evaluate best if you will be suitable and effective for the tasks involved in the field and local community. This is to ensure that everyone on the given project has the right motivations, and is ready to make an effort to work and not just stay there for a holiday.
- Do you partner with local organisations on the ground and how do you asses them?
All of our programmes are established and managed independently by local organisations. We have created partnerships with these and assist them in finding volunteers for the programmes they offer.
When we decide to establish a partnership for a new volunteer programme, several aspects are considered:
- What is the purpose of having volunteers. If we don’t believe that volunteers would make a sustainable impact, then we will not engage on a new partnership
- We ask whether the organisation has had volunteers before or not. If yes, we would ask for references to ask previous volunteers about their experience
- How is the volunteer programme structured, what is the price and what would be included.
- If volunteers pay a fee to join the project, where is that volunteer fee going. We make sure that all of the funds are used for what is claimed, be that for accommodation/food, a donation to the project/local community, a donation to the host family if volunteers stay in a home-stay and so on.
- Do the volunteer programmes have time commitments?
How much time you’d need to commit depends on the given project. In general, when it comes to wildlife and marine conservation programmes, you can stay from 2 weeks and up to several months. Some volunteer and internship programmes are set in their duration, which can be several weeks or months depending on the role. Our partner organisations has set the duration, as they know the time required and needed for the purpose.
- Is any feedback from previous volunteers available?
You can find feedback from previous volunteers both on our Facebook page and website. We are also listed on third-party volunteer and travel sites, such as VolunteerForever and GoOverseas, where volunteers can leave their independent reviews of the programme.
- Do you allow wildlife interactions on your programmes?
For our volunteering projects involving wildlife, there is no unethical interaction with wild animals at all. For most of our wildlife projects they only involve observing/studying wildlife from a distance, unless the work absolutely requires otherwise and this will be accompanied by trained researchers or staff.
You can read more about our stance on ethical wildlife volunteering here.
- What is the issue with orphanage volunteering abroad?
Volunteering abroad in orphanages is not in the best interests of children. Decades of research has shown that orphanages are not conducive to child development. The presence of volunteers in orphanages can increase the risk of abuse, and cause attachment issues and other developmental problems. Orphanages are also often not what you think – 80% of children living in orphanages in Cambodia have one or more living parent.
You can read more about our stance on ethical volunteering with children abroad here.
Many organisations around the world are reliant on volunteers coming to their project(s) to assist in achieving their objectives. Volunteering is a great way of experiencing a country and culture, while making a difference for a local community and on conservation efforts. Just make an effort in doing your research before going, so you know that you are having a sustainable impact on the programme and community you decide to join.