Question yourself and sign up to the 'volunteer
Are you ready to be an ethical volunteer?
So you have found an organisation that you like
the look of. You have questioned them about their programmes and
the way they run and you think they have the programme for you.
Now it is time to think a little bit about your own motivations
for volunteering and make sure you are ready to do a bit of ethical
The Irish development workers organisation Comhlamh
(Gaelic for solidarity) have developed an excellent
code of practice and charter for volunteers and sending organisations,
and the following is based on their work (visit www.comhlamh.org
So here are some questions to ask yourself as a
you willing to inform yourself as much as possible about the country
and community you are about to travel to?
If you want to learn about a new country and a
new community, then you need to be prepared to learn in every way
there is. It is not enough just to turn up and hope everything will
be obvious. It wont be. Before you travel learn as much as
you can about where you are going. Read books, watch films, find
out whos in government and what the leading football team
is. There are loads of places to find information. The BBC website
list news on every country in the world, Stanfords, Daunts and other
specialist travel bookshops will be able to help you out- and as
ever you can see what, from the brilliant to the total waste of
time, the internet can offer you.
Once you arrive in the country you are visiting
keep learning. Read the local papers, go to local events, follow
the football team, keep up with local and national news and of course
talk to people. An amazing number of travellers and volunteers manage
to stay oblivious to what is going on around them. History, politics
and culture will not simply reveal all their complexities to the
volunteer who, however interested, cant be bothered to do
you feel ready to take on the volunteer job you are applying for?
Be honest about what skills you feel you have to
offer and take on a role that is appropriate. If you have never
taught before then just because you speak English and have travelled
to a foreign country doesnt mean you are suddenly going to
know anything about teaching. Maybe you are looking to develop new
skills, but then choose a role where you will be a teaching assistant,
or running an after schools programme. And if you really want to
teach- well then do a course, for example a TEFEL, volunteer in
a school in your home country before you leave.
The same principle applies to any job you might
take on, be it medical work, construction, tourism or so on, if
you are taking the volunteer placement because you want to learn
new skills then make sure you are not expected to bring any skills
you ready to travel as a learner and a guest?
None of us become international volunteers for
purely altruistic reasons. Rather we do it because it is exciting,
because we might learn something, because we want to meet new people
who live lives different to our own and because, just maybe, we
might have something to offer. By acknowledging why we volunteer
we tell our hosts not that they should be the grateful recipients
of our altruism, but rather that they are people we can learn from
and with. We ask them to be our teachers, not just tell them to
be our students. The best volunteers are those who feel they have
as much if not more to learn as they have to give.
International volunteering can be a great way for
people from different cultures and communities to learn about one
another. But for this to happen, as the volunteer who has the privilege
to travel, you need to be ready to share yourself and learn from
those you visit. As the head of international volunteering as VSO
states: volunteers [must] adopt the humility and the commitment
to learning that will be crucial if they are to be effective.
you prepared to be professional?
International volunteering is not just a cool
way to go on holiday. You are making a commitment to those that
send you and those that host you. The worst volunteering experiences
tend to occur when the expectations of the sending organisations,
the volunteer and the host organisation do not match up. Having
secured a basic job description from your sending or host organisations
are you ready to commit to taking on this role? Turning up late,
leaving early, taking holiday without arranging it first or without
making sure it fits in with where you are working (e.g. if in a
school then during term time) can all be very disruptive.
Are you prepared to work in ways that may be different
to what you are used to but may be locally appropriate and normal?
You need to be ready to be flexible and to be professional.
you prepared to be flexible?
In becoming an international volunteer you have
chosen to leave your home country to go and work in another country.
You have chosen to go and meet and work with people who are different
from yourself. So you need to expect things to be different. This
may mean different approaches to communication, to time keeping,
to organisation; it may mean different ways of managing projects
and different expectations for project outcomes- and you need to
be ready to work with these differences.
Ultimately this means being humble enough to learn
from others, and open enough to say when you dont understand.
If you want, or expect things to be just like they are in your home
country then why are you travelling abroad?
you ready to take responsibility for your own health & safety?
Many international volunteers travel a long ways
from home. In doing this you need to be ready to take responsibility
for your own health, mental and physical. Your sending organisation
wont always be able to anticipate every situation, and it
is important that you feel up to making decisions for yourself in
the situation you are entering. Be aware of the differences between
volunteer programmes that work with teams and have permanent supervision
and those where you might be on a lone placement- choose what feels
right for you. Make yourself aware of local health issues and make
sure you have adequate insurance.
up to the Comhlamh code of conduct for Volunteers
If you feel you are ready to be an international
volunteer, and what to do the best you can to do things in a fair
way then sign up to the volunteer code of conduct. Find the
code of conduct at www.comhlamh.org
print a copy, sign it and send it back to your sending organisations.
Let them know that you intend to hold them to high ethical standards
and you are prepared to hold your self to such standards too.
Finally, enjoy & learn
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