5 Questions You Need to Ask Before Volunteering Abroad
by Georgina Wilson-Powell
No matter how old you are, spending time working abroad and helping a local community or environment, is always worth doing. But how do you make sure you get the most of out of the trip and ensure the projects you’re working on make a real difference?
The CEOs of GVI and Omprakash, two very different voluntourism organisations, have come up with a list of questions to help you book the right experience.
What are you looking for?
Steve Gwenin, CEO of GVI says “You need to be honest about what you want. Do you want a cheap backpacker experience, do you want to work, or would you rather be at the beach most days? Do you want to make a difference - that’s the first step.”
What are my hosts’ incentives?
Willy Oppenheim, CEO of Omprakash, says “If they’re making a bunch of money for a short time on something you don’t really know how to do - like build a school - then realise that for them it’s more of a money making exercise than really impactful help. That’s basically tourism - and not service. If you want something more serious and more sustained then maybe you need to look somewhere else.”
Are the hosts interested in you as a human with particular skills?
“If a company is asking you to pay a deposit when all you’ve done is fill out a one page web-form then perhaps they’re not interested in vetting you or finding the right match for your skills and experience” says Oppenheim.
What are the specific goals of the project?
“Look into who these local partners are and look into how the project is going to hit its goals. For example we work with partners like Save the Children, government ministries, the Red Cross and the WWF and lots of universities,” says Gwenin.
What am I going to learn?
“Don’t let yourself off the hook with something vague like cultural differences or global citizenship,” says Oppenheim. “It’s so broad it’s doesn’t really mean anything. There’s nothing wrong with identifying what you want to get out of a trip and making it something specific.For example if you have someone who wants to learn about small businesses in agriculture and their access to capital in rural areas because they’re interested in micro-finance, that would suggest that they’re going to get something specific out of the experience that could help them in the future.”