While traveling last year, one of my goals was to volunteer at a few organizations I found along the way. I thought I would easily find places I could support that fit my skill set and time frame. The reality was that it takes a lot of planning and forethought to volunteer internationally. I was moving too quickly, planning the next stage of my trip, enjoying the place I was in, and working, so it never panned out. It’s still something I would love to do so the goal of having a volunteer experience abroad has been carried over to this year.
I started to research and look for a program that would be would be a perfect fit for me and realized, like most things, it won’t be as easy as I first thought. Of course I could pick a place at random and hope for the best, but doing the work and educating myself is a smarter more ethical approach to volunteering. I want to make sure my time, money, and efforts are going to a worthy organization that actually supports the communities in which they reside. All non-profits are not created equal.
I’ve just started this process, and I thought it would be good to share the steps I’m taking to secure and plan a volunteer focused trip. In case anyone else is interested in doing it as well. I’m thinking I will do a few posts documenting my findings, resources, planning, and ultimately sharing my experience.
There are a few guidelines I’ve already imposed upon myself and the trip:
TIME- I know I will have to plan a whole trip around volunteering. The more time I can commit to the organization the better experience everyone will have, especially if I am working with kids. I wouldn’t mind a quick “drive by” experience if it was something technical and I was really interested in the project. I’m planning on dedicating a month, probably much later in the year or early next year depending on a lot of factors.
SUBJECT- I would like the focus of the program to be involved in a few areas that interest me: Housing-Literacy-Art-Women. I feel like these topics are areas in which I am familiar and/or skilled and where my contribution would be greatest. I would also like to do some volunteering with animals, but it’s not at the top of my list right now.
LOCATION- I’m looking at opportunities in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, and Eastern Europe. Basically because of general interest in those areas, need, and flight cost/time. If I fly to Asia again then I will want to spend much more than a month, and that is not in the cards right now. Ultimately the deciding factor will be where the program I feel connected to is located.
COST- I’m going to try and avoid huge international programs or agencies that charge a fortune for a week of volunteering. I have no problem paying for my accommodations and food, but I want to know exactly where my money is going if I have to pay a fee. I’m looking for small organizations with an actual need for my skills or labor. I want to work, not pay for a voluntourism experience. Transparency is very important. I will also try and use credit card reward miles to pay for any flights, which is my goal every time I travel.
IMPACT- I need to learn about the communities in which I am working, and evaluate (by doing a ton of research and using my brain) if the program is ethically sound and actually doing work to solve the problems that the area faces. Looking at both the short and long-term benefits.
Also, I do not want to be preached to, begged for money, or made to feel that I am some kind of benevolent savior. I just want to work, meet people, learn, and explore a new place...to be genuinely useful. This will be hard to figure out, but I plan on finding stories and reviews from people who have gone before me.
Now that I have my priorities in line, I have a lot of reading and research to do. In a month or two I will check back in, and share my favorite resources and what I’ve learned.