Travel

Structured & Self-funding Volunteer Programmes

A Note on Religious Organisations

Once you know what you might want to do and where you might want to go, there are two things you need to consider. The first is what sort of volunteering experience you want, and the second is how to find the right volunteer opportunity for you. All the organizations offering volunteer opportunities are different and it is really important to find the one that best fits what you are looking for. Local charities or NGOs in search of volunteers often don’t have the time or resources to recruit directly (although some volunteer placements are organized this way). Instead, the most common practice is that they work with partners in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand who match the right placement with the right volunteer. Throughout this process, the emphasis should always be on meeting the needs of the host program abroad, rather than on your requirements as a volunteer. (To avoid signing up with an organization that does not operate this way, see p25 for a discussion of ethical volunteering.) In these cases, partners can be limited companies, not-for-profit organizations, or registered charities, although the latter often recruit and run their volunteer programs. Regardless of their status, all three are normally referred to as ‘sending agencies’. Within this framework, there are three main types of experiences that you can choose from organized programs, structured and self-funding programs, and do-it-yourself placements. Organized Volunteer Programmes This category is comprised of organizations that offer all-inclusive, highly organized volunteer experiences. Almost everything is arranged for you: your volunteer placement; international flights; board and lodging; travel insurance; visas; orientation courses; in-country support and transport. Volunteers can work on either development or conservation and wildlife projects. They often work in teams, but individual placements are also common. The cost of volunteering through one of these organizations can seem high, although their ‘all-inclusive’ nature means that everything is covered in the cost (bar pocket money).

Who Can Go?

Interestingly, volunteering has been part of the international scene for long enough to allow some people to use it as a kind of lifelong education. In such cases, people usually find that what they learned and what they had to offer were very different at different stages of their life. Among southern hemisphere types, volunteering is particularly on the rise among the over 60s. In Australia, a recent government study found that Australians are world leaders in volunteering within their local communities once they are retired. A census in New Zealand, conducted in 2001, revealed that over one million people participated in volunteering in that country. On the international front, Australians and New Zealanders have taken to incorporating self-funding volunteering stints, such as assisting with a whale conservation project, into their travel itineraries and a record number of volunteer places are being offered on skilled volunteer programs like Australian Youth Ambassador for Development (AYAD). Volunteering attracts people from all around the world. Whether you go abroad alone or with a group of compatriots, you will meet and mix with volunteers of all nationalities and creeds. International volunteering is also drawing an increasingly diverse spectrum of candidates from within individual countries. In North America, for example, since the inception of President Kennedy’s Peace Corps (p96) in the 1960s, volunteering overseas has often been stereotyped as a vehicle for relatively well-off – and generally white – twentysomethings to go out and ‘save the world’ by digging wells and teaching English in the developing world. However, recent world events have made volunteering an attractive option to Americans, for example, of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent, of both liberal and conservative political stripes, and from a variety of faiths and backgrounds. Many more people have come to appreciate the benefits of international volunteering – including the forming of rewarding relationships, the gaining of linguistic and technical skills, and the creativity and cultural awareness that flow from the experience. In addition, there is a growing number of organizations that cater to volunteers with a disability. Anthony Lunch, Managing Director of mondochallenge, says:

Last word

If you find yourself in this situation, it could be the perfect springboard for volunteering. What better way to spend your redundancy cheque? In recent years, international volunteering has become increasingly popular with retirees, who have a lifetime of skills to offer, as well as savings, maturity, and a bit more time. In particular, North Americans with a few more years under their belts – and a few more dollars in their bank accounts – are applying for international volunteer placements in greater numbers than ever before. Some of these folk witnessed, or participated in, the early years of the Peace Corps and are eagerly (re)living their volunteer dream in retirement. Others have never found the time to venture abroad amid career and family responsibilities and are taking advantage of their newfound personal freedom to work overseas. Oliver Walker is 63 and taught English in Sri Lanka with mondochallenge.

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