Read before you choose your volunteer destination
Who can be a volunteer?
Anyone with a good sense of humour, an open mind, lots of patience, an ability to speak the language (usually English is enough, but in some countries Spanish of French are desirable) and flexibility. These are the qualities which make a good volunteer. Depending on the programme there may be age limits or other skills required.
For some it can be suprising that giving up your time is not enough. Unless you are a skilled person for the programme with Medecins du Monde or the Peace Corps, you will always need to cover your flight, insurance, visa, vaccinations, and other travel expenses.
These costs may vary depending on the category of the project - for example projects that require special equipment and training tend to have higher fees than those designed for community development. Costs also vary according to the country of placement and the length of stay.
Some organisations can take payment from you as a kind of donation to the local organisation or community, but make sure that you have checked the credentials of each organisation.
Costs may also vary depending on the sending organisation as there are usually significant administrative costs that relate to the maintenance of the voluntary programmes.
If you decide to go via the direct organiser of the programme then you will pay little or no fees (though sometimes you may pay additional charges for your accomodation). However to do this you have to be very independent and carry out most of the preparations yourself before you arrive.
If you prefer to have everything arranged for you by a sending agent, then you may relax, but you’ll have to prepare yourself for much higher costs.
Should you decide to arrange your voluntary placement directly via a grass-root organisation (which will cost you little or nothing in the way of fees) but find yourself short of time to search for and arrange travel requirements such as the cheapest flights, insurance and any necessary vaccinations, you can contact the team at Travel with Mission – we can arrange all this for you for a modest fee.
It’s up to you if you want to dedicate a week, two or maybe even a year or more to working in voluntary programmes as there are many different opportunities and these can be fitted into your life at any time. If this is your first volunteering experience, you could consider a short-time programme, so that you could replace your traditional or all-inclusive holiday with this volunteering opportunity.
The length of the placement should also be considered with regards to your aims and the aims of the programme itself. Usually the longer the volunteering programme, the better the results for the community, organisation and the volunteer themselves.
You should also consider the climate of the places you are willing to go to as the climate and the seasons can impact on how comfortable you will feel - for example try to avoid the rainy season or monsoon season (unless for some reason this season is important for the programme you are likely to choose).
The weather is also a particularly important consideration when you want to combine volunteering with an additional holiday.
A few steps to be taken by all new volunteers
Firstly, by using Travel with Mission’s website, you can choose between the continent, country, type of work, length of placement and arrangement costs. Using these selections you can create a short list of 3-5 possible volunteering programmes that match your interest and needs.
Next, before you register, book or pay for a volunteering programme, you should try to find answers to the following questions:
- What kind of job will you have? What will your daily routine look like? Will you have weekends off?
- In instances where you want to choose a programme directly from the sending organization: Do they cooperate with the local organisation? Who is the partner? What kind of support can you get from the local partner and the sending organisation?
- What exactly is included in the programme fees? What percentage of your fees go towards administrative costs, your accomodation, or food? Does any money go to the local community?
- What are your expectations and aims of this programme? Make sure that you discuss your expectations and aims with the local organisation and establish if they have a chance to be fulfilled.
- Do you need any extra skills to do your volunteering job? Do you need to speak any other foreign languages?
- Will you receive any pre-departure training and/or post-arrival training?
- Can you volunteer with a friend or family member? Can you be accomodated together?
- Is the area politically stable?
- What access do you have to telecommunications or the Internet?
- Where is the nearest pharmacy, medical facility or hospital?
Try to look for reviews about your preferred volunteering programme – this can help you make up your mind. You can also ask the organisation for the email addresses of their former volunteers and try to contact them personally.
When you’ve done your homework then you can make your choice! Remember to enjoy your volunteering opportunity abroad and try to be as enthusiastic, open-minded, flexible and patient as possible. Remember that no organisation is perfect!
Finally, remember to post your review of the volunteering programme on our website when you return, so others can use your information and tips for their searches.