Tuesday, July 27, 2010

So You've Thought About Volunteering Overseas?

I'd like to introduce our guest writer Norbert Figueroa from GloboTreks Travels .We've been chatting about volunteering as he's read a few posts of our volunteer experiences I've written about on this site.
So we both felt there is real value to our readers if we explore this subject in depth.And I'll follow up Norbert's post later on with thoughts and advice from our 'hands on ' experiences.Norbert poses some very relevant questions and offers great answers.Please, chip in and post any comments and questions.And if you have any voluntour experiences yourself, we'd really like to read them.

How to Select a Good Volunteering Program
Voluntourism (Volunteer Tourism) is an ever-increasing travel niche that has introduced itself into the travel mainstream –and with a good purpose. Volunteer travel is a way to explore the world while helping a community, a wildlife cause, a non-profit organization, or others in need. It is a way to give a hand, give resources, and give hope to people and places you never knew, but that you’ll never forget once you’re back at home.
When looking for a volunteer host or program there are a couple questions you should ask yourself in order to make an informed decision. This selection process will be beneficial for you and for your cause because, in the end, the resources will be highly focused and productive. Here are some of the questions to consider when searching for a volunteer program.

Why should you volunteer?
Your assistance as a volunteer benefits a given program or cause and helps them realize their goals or at least make them more achievable by being part of an ongoing effort.
Volunteering is also a way to enrich yourself in many aspects like gaining new skills, learning a new language, and others. It helps enhance your resume and your career as well. If you’re still in school, it opens more possibilities for scholarships and financial aid to further your education. But even more important, it fulfills your need to help others.

Why should you pay to volunteer?
Most service organizations are non-profits and they only receive funding through donations, memberships, and grants. Your payment will help cover costs like business expenses, local staff, host families, food, orientation and training, supplies, airport pick up and drop off, manuals, etc.
Prices vary drastically among different programs, from only $20 per week to $1000+ per week. Make sure you verify what is included in your total capital contribution. But in the end, all or a portion of your payment will create a positive impact in a local family or individuals.

How much are you willing to pay?
Following the previous question, you should establish how much you consider your volunteer work is worth. You will find different organizations with different price settings performing the same tasks. Evaluate their prices (your capital donation), and see which one does the best benefit under your price range.

What do you want to do?
Volunteering provides many work opportunities that include: animal care and rescue, education, health, construction, local communities aid and development, and others.
Make sure you know what is involved in the program and what will be your role. You should feel comfortable with your roles as a volunteer in order to give your best (the biggest benefit) to your cause.

Where do you want to go?
As a traveler this is probably one of the first questions you should ask yourself. Decide a destination of your interest and search what volunteer programs they have available. Then out of those programs available, narrow it down to the programs and causes that appeals to you.
Another method can be by knowing a specific cause you want to contribute to and by searching locations around the world that address that cause.

How much time do you have?
Time is a big factor when volunteering. Your volunteer time frame can vary from a week to a year and more. Be aware that you might introduce yourself to a project at the beginning, middle, or end of its timeline. Most volunteer opportunities are ongoing causes that have been active for some time and will continue indefinitely or until achieving their goal. Depending on the time you contribute to your cause, you might be able to see the direct impact of your work. If not, do not get discouraged. Volunteer programs have long-term projects that are accomplished through the help of many short-term participants.

Do you agree with the organization’s mission?
Do your research about the organization that you’re interested in volunteering with. Read their mission and make sure that their working philosophy aligns with your goals and interest. Study their previous projects, organization history, goals achieved, and others.
See how open they are about their funding. Most organizations have it on display on their web page or facilitate it to you when asked. Look at their spending breakdown and see how your volunteer fee is allotted.
If you feel comfortable with the above information, then feel free to go ahead with that organization; if not, then move along, as there are other organizations that can use your help.

What do former volunteers say?
Social approval and word of mouth is one of the best ways to know how positive will be your contribution in a given project. Some volunteer organizations have forums that connect volunteers and help them share their thoughts and opinions. Forums are also a great way to get in touch with other volunteers that might be working on your same project. Google for articles and blog posts about the organization and projects. Connect with them through social networks to have a more interactive relationship even before you start your volunteer work.

A good directory that can help you select volunteer programs around the world is http://www.volunteerabroad.com/. It helps you narrow down your search by type of work, world region, country, and duration.

As you can see, voluntourism is a great way to travel and get to know new places while helping others on the way. No matter how big or small your contribution might be, make sure that it is focused in something you are passionate about and that are willing to give your time and effort to improve it. In the end, you will have a gratifying experience and the satisfaction of having made a positive impact in the world.

Writer and Editor of GloboTreks Travels
Travel Blog URL: http://www.globotreks.com/
Let's socialize!
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GloboTreks
Twitter: http://twitter.com/GloboTreks
Stumble Upon: http://www.stumbleupon.com/stumbler/GloboTreks/


Jim said...

You raise a lot of good questions here Norbert.And I have a few observations from personal experience that I'll add.And it's very important as a lot of people reading the above may be intending to volunteer but just don't know where to start, how to go about it, or what pitfalls there are.Your post is really valuable from that perspective and thanks for choosing this subject as your first guest blog on here.

Norbert said...

Thanks Jim.

I hope this helps at least to narrow down the scope of what anyone is interested in doing and where. How to go and the pitfalls I think can vary drastically between programs.

It is necessary that people get a good grasp of what is volunteering and what they should expect from that experience. If people have a clear understanding and know what they are going to be faced with when volunteering, I think that will reduce the pitt falls in a great way.
What you think?

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim said...

Gee, too many mistakes...
Here it is again.
I think you have really helped focus all those questions an intending first time volunteer has.
It's interesting that voluntourism was a big thing for a lot of travel companies to get into a couple of years ago, but some have dropped promoting voluntourism, having found that perhaps they just weren't good at it.Or that the public didn't perceive them to be where they go to 'buy' that voluntour experience.So I think that Gap Adventures,who are still in the voluntour market, are probably reasonably succesful because they set up Planeterra Foundation to concentrate on providing a value for money approach to voluntourism, and at the same time as a vehicle for making real changes at grassroots community level in many countries.
Seperating out their brands may have paid off in that respect.
It is after all about credibility.Intending voluntourists want certainty that where they pay their money, and put their time into, is a bona fide project of real value at a grassroots community level.There are many tales around of people being bitterly disapointed with some purported projects.
Between you and I and anyone else who wants to lend comment here, we can lay down a trail of info that can help a lot of people avoid the pitfalls.
I've been on 2 different projects.I've done a lot of research.I can advise people from my experience.
More importantly,I'd like to hear from others.

Norbert said...

Maybe one of the reasons people are "disappointed" is because they don't see immediate results on their work and effort. It is understandable that someone will want to see the benefits generated by their efforts, and feel good about it, but most programs are on a long term basis. Maybe a great push can be presenting many "small" immediate result programs that can leave the volunteer satisfied with their efforts.

Lily said...

Thank you for this post really clear and complete.
So I'd like to go in Namibia next year, in July and August. I want to go volunteering in Naankuse, specially to help in the school for San children and also to get involved with the animals. And what about Harnas ?
It's very interesting what you wrote about being disappointed or satisfied by this experience. I think volunteering is just giving and sharing, no matter if we can't see immediate results.

Jim said...

Hi Lydia,
I have no experience of Harnas,which used to be Noah's Ark.It is operated by the mother of the owner of Naankuse but they are now completely separate.
At Naankuse ,as a volunteer there you will be able to spread your time between working in the Clever Cubs school for the San children, and working with the sanctuary animals.So it's a good choice.
As to one's satisfaction,you have the right attitude.Your own individual effort may not make a measurable difference, but it is the cumulative ongoing effort of all those volunteers that makes a big difference.
I hope you enjoy your time there as much as we did.And you are going to have to come back and let us all know about it!Please!

Jim said...

Hi Jimshu

Thanks for your reply I just wanted to get your opinion knowing that you had been there. I still don't think it would be the place for us as we're not comfortable with lots of human/wildife contact but that is just our opinion. I'm sure they do a lot of good work.
PAWS was our first venture into volunteering and it was the best experience of our lives but we were very shocked at some of the things we have discovered about voluntary work especially concerning the canned hunting industry. The volunteer on our group who had just been at Antelope Park in Zimbabwe I'm sure had no idea that this practice is going on. We have emailed another volunteer who was planning to go next year to let her know about it. We found an article from the Sunday Times in 2008 highlighting these dangers about several places in Africa and they contacted the travel companies who were sending clients to such places. Obviously Real Gap are still sending people, as thats who the volunteer in our group travelled with, and I will be emaling them regarding this. We looked in to this park on our return and the fact that they have orphaned elephants and you are allowed to "ride" them was more than enough to put us off. We watched a programme about Antelope Park a few months ago and it came across that they were doing such good work trying to release lions back to the wild, which they probably do, but there is obviously a more sinister side to this place.
PAWS is linked to the Africat Foundation and based at Okonjima. Africat's main aim is to release as many animals back in to the wild as possible, mainly cheetahs, and try to stop farmers shooting big cats on their land instead encouraging them to trap them. Africat will then collect them and release them as soon as possible. In the last 13 years they have released 86% of the big cats back to the wild. They also have big cats which can never be released but there is very little human contact with them. We are very wary of anywhere which allows a lot of human contact as we feel this should not happen. The animals should be used to try and educate the tourists, locals and especially the next generation so that hopefully things can change. Africat is funded partly by the tourist lodges on Okonjima and partly by donations. Okonjima is owned by the Hanssen family who in the past were cattle farmers but the new generation are completely comitted to conservation, education, resolving human and predator conflict, monitoring large carnivores, and welfare and rehabilitation.
While we there we saw the release of 5 cheetahs back to the wild which was an extremely emotional experience. There is a British film crew there for four months making a programme which will be show in September so we can't wait to see it. Since we came back they have released another 7 cheetahs, but unfortunately we got the sad news a couple of days ago that one of the cheetahs released when we were there in May had been killed by a territorial leopard.
PAWS and the Africat Foundation are completely in tune with our beliefs and principles. We shudder to think that we could have ended up at somewhere like Antelope Park it doesn't bear thinking about.
I know you have been on an elephant project in the past was that in Namibia? The English couple who run PAWS met on an elephant project in Damaraland. Clive was Project Leader for a couple of years and his wife Roma went out for three months as a volunteer. That would be a few years ago now as they started PAWS in 2008 and they worked at Okonjima for a few years before that.
I would highly recommend PAWS to anyone
who wants to do voluntary work. We are planning to go back next year as I doubt we would find anywhere which is so in tune with our principles, and we love all animals but cheetahs are our favourite so we thought we'd died and gone to heaven!
If you would like any more info please don't hesitate to get in touch.

Jim said...

The above comment has been copied from another forum.Poppy has allowed me to post this as I thought her comments are invaluable advice for intending volunteers
Thanks Poppy!