Step One: Look for an ethical organisation
When trying to find an ethical volunteering organisation step
one is to look at the way the organisations presents itself
and markets its programmes.Step two is
to question them more specifically, and step
three is to question your self.
There are lots of things you can look for when picking a volunteer
sending organisations. Most people concentrate on the cost, what
country they want to go to and when they want to travel. But picking
a good volunteer sending agency isnt like picking a good holiday
company, or at least it shouldnt be. To find a good volunteer
organisation you need to look at whats in it for the host
community, for the people you are off to work with.
Here are some ideas that will provide some clues to the way an
organisation works, and the quality of its volunteer placements.
1. Look at the pictures and words the organisation
uses to tell you about their developing world partners.
If you want travel with a good, ethical organisation the most important
thing is the quality of the relationship the sending organisation
has with the host organisation. You want to look for an organisation
with a respectful not a patronising or colonialist attitude to their
developing world partners- and there are lots of clues to be found
in the pictures and words an organisation uses to describe the developing
Watch out for organisations that use lots (or even only) pictures
of children to illustrate their projects. In colonial times the
developing world, and particularly Africa, was seen as childlike
an idea that seemed to give Britain the right to take
charge, to be the parent and to know best. This sense of child
and adult is still held onto by many people in the west,
and encourages a patronising approach to the developing world. Whilst
many tourism organisations rely on images of children to make the
developing world seem friendly, innocent and so on, most international
development agencies by comparison are very careful about using
images of children in their advertising. So, if you are looking
for a volunteer sending organisation that is more interested in
international development and less interested in tourism look at
the pictures they use. Are they all pictures of children been helped
by westerners? Where are the images of young westerners working
along side people of their own age? Look for an organisation that
represents the developing world in a positive way.
Words are as important as pictures. Again you want to find an organisation
that describes the people they work with in positive, respectful
ways. Avoid organisations that make it sounds like you will be changing
the world (you wont be). Watch out for those that describe
where you go as a place of poverty and need, there are
always resourceful active people dealing with their own problems
in every community in every country in the world.
2. Be wary of the BIG sending organisations
Big is not always best. Many of the better sending organisations
are small. They work in specific countries, with specific partners
whom they know well.
3. Look for an organisation that matches volunteer
skills to the project
If you dont know how to do something at home in your own
country then you are unlikely to know how to do it in someone elses.
If you have never taught before or been a nurse, or run a charity
then be wary of sending organisations that will ask you to do something
you will not have the skills for. There is a risk that international
volunteer work becomes a way for people from the west to go and
practice, have a go at, things that they would never be allowed
to do at home. This is using someone elses country as a place
to experiment, somewhere to play- this is when international work
becomes colonialism. By all means if you want to work in a school
then do so- but if you dont know anything about teaching dont
volunteer to teach. Be a classroom assistant, help with after school
programmes etc- match your skills to what to host is looking for.
So look for an organisation that does this. Be wary of a sending
organisation that will let you do anything you wish to sign up for.
Rather, look for the organisations that are interested in who you
are, what skills you have and then will match you to a placement
even if that means going to a country that might not have
been your first choice.
4. Does the organisation select
A good organisation will want to make sure that they are sending
the right people not just the right number of people.. This means
that finding suitable volunteers will be about more than making
sure their cheques dont bounce. Organisations that have some
form of interview or selection process are probably more interested
in the quality of the volunteers they send and the programmes they
offer than those that dont. So, though a selection or interview
process might seem a drag its existence is a clue to the
ethics of the sending organisation.
5. Pre-departure and return briefings
As an international volunteer you are probably off somewhere new
to do something new. The better prepared you are the better volunteer
you will be. Look at what pre-departure training and support an
organisation offers. Some of the smaller ones may not run specific
training but they should want to meet you or speak with you before
you go. Those organisations that offer de-briefings when you get
back home show they still have an interest in you after you have
paid your money and completed your placements- one again this gives
you a clue to the ethics of the organisations.