Crash Course in Volunteering Abroad:
In volunteering abroad there exist two types of organizations: local NGOs and volunteer service organizations.
Local NGOs (non-governmental organizations) are commonly small non-profits with a specific cause, such as running orphanages or building community centers. These organizations rarely have the funding required to recruit and support international volunteers themselves. To help recruit international volunteers, many local NGOs partner with volunteer service organizations.
Volunteer Service Organizations such as i-to-i, Global Volunteers, and Cross Cultural Solutions are for-profit or non-profit organizations who recruit, manage, and support international volunteers. Some international service organizations partner with hundreds of local NGOs, supplying a steady cycle of new volunteers. Most volunteer service organizations charge the volunteers a fee to volunteer through their organization.
Why can’t I volunteer on my own?
Of course you can! Thousands of people volunteer independently of volunteer service organizations each year. For those more comfortable with international travel, independent volunteering is the perfect option. To volunteer abroad independently, simply travel to a country you visit and ask around. The trick is finding an organization you want to work for that is willing to accept you as a volunteer. It is the responsibility of the volunteer to organize housing, food, medical and travel insurance, and local transportation. While independent volunteering is the perfect option for some experienced travelers, most do not have the time or knowledge to organize everything themselves. For these people, volunteer service organizations are the perfect solution. For a fee volunteer service organizations organize, support, and guide volunteers through every aspect of their trip.
What am I paying for?
Volunteer service organizations employ a full time staff to build partnerships and recruit, support, and manage volunteers. The fee paid by volunteers covers a number of services and means that little to no costs are passed onto the local NGOs themselves.
Most local NGOs are unable to afford the cost of recruiting international volunteers. This cost includes advertising, brochures, and customer service for prospective volunteers. A portion of a volunteer’s fee goes directly into maintaining this recruitment drive for the future.
Many international volunteers have never traveled overseas. Volunteer service organizations provide a wide range of support to their volunteers including help with vaccinations, travel insurance, and fundraising.
Volunteer service organizations build long term partnerships with reputable local NGOs and through these volunteers are given access to the local community in a way no unsupported volunteer could hope for. Global Citizen Network believes “while individuals may be able to travel for less to many of these places (we) provide the entrance into a village and exposure to a culture that one could not receive if traveling solo…”
The projects of local NGOs can take a single month to many years to complete. Short term volunteers rarely complete an entire project during their short stay. It is the role of volunteer service organizations to manage the flow of volunteers to and from projects. This management allows those with limited time to hit the ground running. Jim Hausler, a volunteer with Global Volunteers agrees, “Things are already set in motion and you pick up where the last team left off. Being part of one team in a series, part of a long-term commitment served by many teams, I realized that I was participating in something much bigger. It was perfect for me because only get a few weeks’ vacation year”.
Training and Orientation
Many projects require volunteers to have orientations and training in languages and/or special skills. A portion of the fee paid by volunteers goes towards this orientation and training when necessary. i-to-i even provides accredited TEFL courses to prepare volunteers in all placements where English language instruction is required.
Medical and Travel Insurance
Often, a volunteer’s program fee is used to provide comprehensive medical and travel insurance. This gives both the volunteer and their family piece of mind that their health and safety are secure.
Food and Board
Volunteer service organization always arranges food and board for volunteers. Often volunteers are hosted by locals who are given a stipend to provide for the volunteer. The host families provide a safe and welcoming atmosphere for the volunteers.
Local transportation in a foreign country is intimidating, especially when you don’t speak the language. Volunteer service organizations often arrange safe local transport to and from the airport and other destinations.
Volunteer service organizations often employ in-country staff to provide local support and services during the volunteer’s stay. This staff also provides a valuable safety net just in case something goes wrong.
The Project Itself
The most important use for the volunteer’s fee is on the project itself. Program fees help fund the project itself, from school supplies to construction materials. With every new volunteer comes the funding to continue the project into the future.
Chris is the founder and director of ServeYourWorld. Currently he splits his time between working for ServeYourWorld and attaining a triple degree in political science, international studies and religious studies from the University of Miami. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his fiancee Jenn.