With ‘gap’ season just around the corner, Volunteers’ Week (1-7th June 07) is the perfect time to recognise the work done by volunteers around the globe, to highlight the opportunities available and for would-be globetrotters, a time to look at planning a safe and rewarding volunteering experience overseas.
Over the last decade, the gap year has become a rite of passage for thousand of young Brits looking to explore the world before heading off to university. But with travel becoming increasingly accessible, more and more young travellers are keen to get more out of their time away from home and to give something back through volunteering.
With a plethora of gap year organisations and projects now available to choose from, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to choose the right option. With that in mind, leading meaningful travel provider i-to-i has revealed its top five tips for selecting a volunteer travel provider and planning a safe and successful trip:
Do your homework. If you are travelling with an organisation it is key that you find out as much about them and their level of experience as possible. Find out how long they have been around and how experienced the staff is – are they able to advise you and help you select the right project and most importantly, how responsible are they when it comes to the projects they work with? How do they select the projects, what support do they offer them and do they employ local in-country staff and support the local trades and services?
Decide what you want to get out of your experience. It is important that you have a clear idea of the type of experience that you want and think about the skills you have and where you think you could make the most impact. By matching your aims and skills to the options available, you’ll ensure that you choose the right project for you.
Find out how you will be making a difference during your time overseas. Volunteer projects can range from anything from one week to over two years, so it is vital that you think about the maximum time that you want to spend on a project and that you find out about the level of contribution that you will be making during your time as a volunteer. You should also find out how sustainable the project is, particularly, what will happen after you leave.
Check what you’ll be doing as a volunteer. By knowing in advance what you’ll be doing on a day to day basis you can make an informed choice and make sure that you will be making a valuable contribution and that the project will meet your expectations.
Know exactly what you’ll be getting for your money. If you are paying a fee to volunteer it is vital that you know where the money will go. If you are travelling with a commercial organisation it is important that you understand that all of the fee you pay may not go directly to the project you’re visiting. Find out what training you will receive prior to departure. Does your fee include accommodation, food, airport pick-up and full orientation on arrival? How much support will you receive when you leave the UK and arrive in country and what procedures are in place should the unforeseeable happen?
i-to-i founder Deirdre Bounds comments “volunteering abroad gives people a wonderful opportunity to not only make a difference but also learn about new cultures, meet new people and have exciting one-off experiences. Given proper research and planning, it can be truly life changing. However, it is vital that people have all the facts and know exactly what they’re getting into. Doing your homework properly ensures that you not only choose the right experience, but also that you make the right kind of impact and do something that is not only worthwhile, but will leave a lasting imprint even after you leave.”
To find out more about volunteering overseas through i-to-i visit i-to-i.com or call 0870 333 2332.
1. i-to-i is a volunteer travel and TEFL training organisation based in Leeds, UK; Denver, USA; Melbourne, Australia and Co. Waterford, Ireland. Each year it sends around 5,000 volunteers to work on 500 projects in over 30 countries worldwide and trains a further 15,000 people to teach English as a foreign language.
2. i-to-i is a founding member of the Year Out Group, associate of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ‘Know Before You Go’ Campaign, member of the Federation of International Youth Travel Organisations and has training accreditation from the Open and Distance Learning Quality Council.