Question the organisation you want to volunteer
Here are seven questions to help you asses the
quality of the volunteering programme and organisations offers BEFORE
you leave the country.
what work will I be doing? Can the organisation provide me with
a brief job description?
An organisation with a good volunteer programme
should be able to tell you what you will be doing, including how
many hours a day, how many days a week and what sort of work it
will be. For example, if an organisation offers a placement in a
school, this may or may not be teaching. Likewise, a placement may
involve 50 hours a week or, and this does happen, a mere 4. The
greatest source of dissatisfaction for volunteers usually comes
from not doing what they planned (and paid) to do.
the organisation work with a local partner organisation?
If a volunteer programme is to be of value to a
local community it should work with, rather than be imposed on,
that community. Good useful programmes will have been built in collaboration
with a local partner organisation. Find out who that partner is
and find out about the relationship. Key things to look for are
whether someone from the local organisation is involved in the day
to day management of your project, what sort of consultation went
on to build that project, and why the project is of value.
the organisation make any financial contribution to its volunteer
programs? If so exactly how much is this?
Many volunteer organisations charge a lot of money,
but where does it all go? Volunteer programmes need funds as well
as labour; indeed, in much of the world, unskilled labour is often
one thing of which there is little shortage. The most important
thing is that your organisation is up front about how your money
is spent. So ask where your pennies are going, and be persistent
about getting a clear figure not a percentage of profits. Also,
be aware that payments for your own food and lodging often do not
assist your volunteer programme.
Q4. Does the organisation
have policies on eco and ethical tourism? If so, how are they implemented?
Running volunteer programmes is an ethically complex.
If you really want to make a valuable contribution to the community
you work with then you have a responsibility to ensure that the
organisation with which you travel has proper the eco and ethical
policies. Look for organisations that have a long-term commitment
to a community, employ local staff and have some mechanism for local
consultation and decision-making. Otherwise, how do you know that
the clinic you built is really needed? That an adult literacy programme
is not more relevant than a new bridge, or that when you have left
there will be the funds and commitment to maintain the project upon
which you have worked?
time frame is the volunteer programme run on?
A well-structured volunteer programme should have
a clear time-frame, and organisations should know from one year
to the next whether a programme will continue. Programmes, and especially
placements, that just occur once can be problematic. For example,
if you are acting as an English teaching assistant for a month or
two what happens the rest of the school year? Are other volunteers
sent or is the placement simply ended? It may be very disruptive
for a class, a school or an orphanage to have a constantly changing
quantity of staff. Establishing the level of commitment an organisation
has to a given project or placement is vital in establishing the
quality, and therefore value, of that volunteer programme.
Q6. Can the organisation
give you precise contact details for your chosen programme?
Organisations tend to work in one of two ways.
The better ones build a relationship with a host organisation, identify
local needs they can meet, arrange placements and projects and then
fill the vacancies. A less positive approach is to wait for travellers
to sign up and pay up, and then find relevant placements. A good
organisation with well-run programmes should be able to let you
know several months before you travel where you will be going and
what exactly you will be doing. If they cannot, or will not, give
you these details then be very wary of the quality of the programme.
Hastily arranged programmes can be disorganised, leaving both volunteers
and local hosts with unclear expectations.
support & training will you receive?
Organisations offer vastly different levels of
training and support. Look for an organisation that offers not only
pre-departure training but also in-country training and support.
As a volunteer you want to be as much use as possible, learn as
much as possible and have as good a time as possible. Training in
both the practicalities of your volunteer job and the culture of
where you are travelling, will all help you get and give the most.
Local support is also important. The type of programme you are on
affects the amount of support required, but make sure you know what
to expect before you go. If there is a local representative, how
local are they- just down the road, or several hours
away by bus? Make sure there is somebody in the country with direct
responsibility for you. All projects require some problem solving
at some point and you will need someone on hand to help you with
back to top >>