Why Supported and Structured Volunteer Programmes are a Good Idea
By Letty Hardy, Travellers Worldwide
Volunteering overseas is such a great way to spend some time. You’ll become a part of a local community. Your CV will look much more interesting and you’ll probably experience a life changing attachment to the people, animals or community you help.
Why should you pay to volunteer, though? This is a good question. You’re giving your time and energy, surely this is enough? It must be possible to go somewhere and help in exchange for accommodation – the old fashioned way.
Well, yes, this probably is possible if you have the time and genuine contacts. At Travellers we receive emails from people asking for our help because they have paid overseas projects direct, but when they arrive, they find that those projects don’t exist - it’s a scam. Going on a programme with a reputable organization means you won’t get into a situation like that.
There are many very big benefits in choosing to pay for a structured program. It all comes down to support, a structured organisation will have a global network of staff around the world, putting you in very safe hands should a problem arise.
Different organizations offer different levels of support, so make sure you ask about exactly what you get for your money (see our support page as an example of excellent support!). A good source of companies following industry self-regulated guidelines can be found here.
12 reasons to volunteer through a structured programme
1. You will have a point of contact in the UK office from the beginning of your researching to your suntanned return and debriefing. Often this contact will be an ex-volunteer who understands exactly what you are going through and is full of useful advice. They will also stay in touch with you throughout your placement experience.
2. You can choose where you go, when you go, how long you go for and exactly what you will do - enabling you to make the most of whatever you’re able to give.
3. There will be an English speaking supervisor appointed enabling you to help without having to first learn the local language.
4. The organization will help you prepare everything you need to do, including such things as visas, medical inoculations, flights, travel insurance, what to pack…
5. The project you’re doing has been assessed by staff following certain guidelines. This means risk assessments have been carried out on all aspects, such as project safety, accommodation, transport, political and civil environment, and much more.
6. If a sudden problem were to arise in the area you have travelled to, such as a medical pandemic, war or a natural disaster, you would be in the hands of a team of professionals with local and international contacts trained to get you out of danger quickly and as safely as possible.
7. Other problems can arise when travelling, such as illness or homesickness, or difficulty adjusting to a new culture, or you could get robbed or mugged or have your passport stolen … in cases like this, you’ll have a support network around you to assist and take care of you.
8. An organisation enables the long-term running and sustainability of a project, which is how valuable development is achieved. By volunteering for a few months you are contributing to the long-term running of a project that benefits from many volunteers over the years and is sustained by the organisation during any periods when there are no volunteers. True development is a long term process.
9. If you volunteer through an organization, you can benefit from combining other projects such as language or cultural courses, work experience placements or mixing and matching some teaching or care with some conservation work - all organised smoothly for you to make your trip a once in a lifetime experience which is hassle free.
10. You’ll meet other volunteers and like-minded people and you might well become friends for life! Structured programmes are more sociable than finding your own experience and with all that stress and worry taken out of it; the whole experience will be much more FUN!
11. If it’s your first time in a new culture, you will benefit from being met at the airport by a friendly country manager or staff member, being settled into your accommodation and introduced to other volunteers and staff. You’ll receive a thorough induction into the area, including how to get about, change money, what’s fun to do, what not to do, where it’s safe to go and not to go. You arrive with a massive head start in becoming a welcomed part of the local community. Once you know the ropes, it’s a great idea to then do some independent travel around the country or continent after your placement. A structured project is the best way to find your feet firmly on new ground, make friends and maybe even learn the lingo!
12. Some organisations make frequent and ongoing donations to their projects out of the fee’s you pay. These organisations are effectively a charity, although not subsidised by the government. They therefore require a fee from volunteers to continue their good work.
Travellers Worldwide was established in 1994 by Phil and Jennifer Perkes to enable people from all over the world to be able to experience the joys of living and working in foreign countries.
Image courtesy Project Trust