Here are some questions to help you to find responsible volunteer work abroad. Ask the questions - not just of us, but of any volunteer organisation you're researching. If you can't get the answers, maybe you need to ask yourself if you should volunteer with them at all ...
We'll answer all these questions honestly and as fully as possible, and if you have other questions, please go ahead and ask us! We'll do our very best to answer them too. (Have a look at the frequently asked questions page too.)
Since we launched our 'questions to ask' campaign in 2007, we're pleased to see that many other volunteer abroad organisations are also encouraging potential volunteers to ask the questions. But here's something to think about ... how will you be able to tell the difference between marketing 'smoke and mirrors' and honest answers?
We suggest that responsible volunteer travel will always involve some answers that may raise additional questions ... here’s an example:
Q - Do you have a child protection policy in place for this project?
A – Yes
Q – would you send me a copy?
A – err ... umm ... we can’t to do that
Q to ask yourself now: what possible reason could there be for not sharing such an important policy ... if they have one? How can I possibly understand the issues without the information?
You get the picture? ... One question may not be enough ...
So – here are the questions we suggest you should ask, and our short answers – and if you’d like more detailed information from us, please don’t hesitate to ask. We’ll be more than happy than expand.
Whose idea was the volunteer project and who runs it?
I’m only going to be there for a few weeks – how can my input be of any real use?
This is an easy answer – local people and local people. They may be government institutions (such as the schools we work with), community self help groups, local charities and not for profits – and sometimes all of the above together!
None of the projects we work with is conceived or managed by us – each has arisen out of local need and with a real understanding of local context. Before we match volunteers to these projects abroad, we work very closely with them to identify their own goals and the volunteer skill share they need to achieve these goals. We have a grand name for this: the project's development plan, which we use to guide the volunteer work you would be asked to do.
How will my skills be used effectively?
Your skills and experience, whether professional or non-professional, will be individually matched to the project’s needs as identified in their development plan – as local need changes, so will the volunteer work. We’ll give you general ideas about the sort of work you could be doing almost immediately, but it is only through discussion with you and with the project that we’ll agree your final skill share role – usually about 8 weeks before you travel.
And when we say 'skills and experience', we mean transferable skills and experience. e.g. an education volunteer may work in a community development programme rather than a school; a health care volunteer may be desperately needed in a school; a business volunteer may be needed in a health care programme ...
Our job is to build the right match for you and the project - putting the right people in the right places.
With our local partners
, we’re able to keep an eye on the bigger picture and ensure continuity in the project. Designed specifically for you, your placement will build on the work of previous volunteers. When you return, your report will update us and future volunteers – you will ‘pass the baton’ to them and they will continue your work – together you will make a real difference.
Who decides what my role will be?
This is team work. We will work with you, the community and our local partner to identify your role - and it will only be decided after thorough discussion of your skills and experience in the context of the project. This decision must be the result of a conversation, not a monologue!
Who knows about me before I arrive and what do they know?
The project will know everything that you have given us permission to share with them – when we say ‘informed consent’
, we mean it. We facilitate your placement in discussion with the local community, but your input in this process is vital.
We firmly believe that there must be informed consent for you and the project. So, as to who knows about you: us, our local partner, the project and specific people you will be working with – and of course, your host knows about you too!
Where will I live?
Most of our volunteers choose to stay in comfortable home stay or locally-owned guesthouse accommodation. It's important for you to know where you'll be staying. In many places, there will be choices from a homestay where you'll share facilities with the family, to a guest house or very comfortable hotel. In other places, there may be no choice ... it could be a basic tented camp or a family-owned palace ... or anything in between!
We will make sure you have information about where you'll be staying - and in good time to help with your decision-making process about which project and destination is best for you.
How long before I know I'm accepted?
You will be accepted, at no cost to you, when the project confirms that you have the skills they need. Your acceptance as a volunteer in one of the projects abroad will be provisional until we've completed all necessary checks (e.g. references, appropropriate police checks), exchanged plenty of information, and know that both you and the project have agreed to work together. This forms our matching process - and the process takes effort and time ... usually 3-4 months, although there have been rare occasions when a placement may be agreed in as little as 3 weeks.
We recommend that you allow a good 3 months for this process.
When, how and where is my money spent?
We ask for no money from you until we all agree that we have the right match for you and the project. At that time we will invoice you.
Each project is costed individually, and the details are clearly shown on each project page as to how and where
the money is spent. We show not only how
your money is spent, but also where
it is spent – which is perhaps even more important. We assume that you, like us, do not want the vast majority of your money to be spent in the UK!
Will I be safe?
Do you have policies to protect wildlife and the environment?
24/7 - your safety is very important for all of us! Our local partners have conducted full risk assessments of the projects, and they check out the local accommodation. We will introduce you to our local partners before you travel and you can talk with them, as well as with us, about any safety issues which may be of concern. Your orientation on arrival will include plenty of information and guidance, including safety issues and essential contact details of the people who are responsible during your time as a volunteer overseas.
Do you have a child protection policy?
Yes we do. people and places has developed our Child Protection Policy as part of our commitment to protect children and young people wherever we work. This policy is based on information from our local partners, as well as guidance from UNICEF and ECPAT.
All children have a right to feel safe and it is especially important for us that children will feel safe while sharing in the activities of volunteer work placements.
Many of the projects we work with have their own child protection policies. All our volunteers are required to agree to and sign the relevant child protection policy before they are accepted for volunteer work in any project that may involve engaging with or working with children.
If you are interested in volunteering in an orphanage you should be asking even more questions! At people and places we offer responsible alternatives to orphanage projects abroad.
people and places is also a member and signatory to The Code - to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. Read more here.
No, we don't. None of the projects where we currently work require wildlife or environment skill share. If this were to change, we would take advice and ensure that the appropriate policies were in place.
If you are interested in working with wildlife and environmental projects, we suggest that you contact reputable conservation organisations and ask their advice.
Will you advise me about local culture and how I should behave?
Yes - of course. This advice will vary from project to project in order to respect local culture and traditions. A simple example: as a woman in The Gambia, it's acceptable to show your upper arms - in Morocco and India, this is not acceptable.
For each project, we and our local partners will provide you with relevant context and background information as well as a volunteer's code of conduct.
Will my normal travel insurance cover me for vounteerr work abroad?
Maybe - we can't tell you - you will need to check. Volunteers often assume that their standard travel insurance will cover them while they’re at work as volunteers. This isn’t necessarily the case, and many travel policies don’t provide cover for work – whether paid or voluntary work! Please make sure that, whichever insurance cover you choose, you really are covered for the volunteer work that you’ll be doing.
We have worked with an international insurance provider to tailor make insurance cover for volunteers.
Can I talk to previous volunteers?
Most definitely – in fact it will be hard not to! We will introduce you to previous volunteers who have worked in your project, and we expect and encourage you to contact them. Education volunteer? you need to talk with previous education volunteers! Business volunteer? you need to talk with previous business volunteers! Health care volunteer? you need to talk with previous health care volunteers!
Their experience and advice will be invaluable to you as you prepare for your own placement, and networking with previous volunteers is an important part of enabling you to continue the work.
Can I talk to local people before I travel?
Again, we expect and encourage it. Direct communication with the projects is often not possible for you – few have reliable internet connection or landlines – but you will be able to communicate directly with our local partners, who are in regular contact with the projects, and they can relay any questions you may have.
What kind of support is there for me?
During your preparation and while you're there, you will have 24/7 support from us and our local partners. When you return, we'll be here and will make sure that you get regular updates and will try to answer any questions you may have.
When we've received your report about your volunteer experience, and with your consent, we’ll put future volunteers in touch with you – even when you’re back, you can still be involved.
How can I be sure that what you’re telling me is true and not just marketing hype?
You can ask other people for starters, and we encourage you to do so! As soon as we’ve agreed a likely placement for you and long before we ask you to commit, we’ll put you in touch with previous volunteers and we’ll also put you in touch with our local partners.
We’ve also – voluntarily – undergone an independent audit carried out by RTReporting – everything we claim in our responsible travel policy has been checked and verified, read the report here