The Sunday Times today has published an article on gap year volunteers “being exploited by firms that set up their trips”. To be fair to the article, it did not say that all organisations were guilty of this, however it is unfortunate that many good volunteer organisations may end up being “tarred with the same brush” as a result of this coverage.
The article suggests that the solution to avoid having a bad volunteer experience is for individuals to go and look for the projects out on the ground themselves. This is NOT necessarily the solution – why is an individual necessarily going to do a better job in selecting a worthwhile project than an organisation does? This is like having a bad experience with a builder doing a poor job on your house, and then you decide as a result that all builders are bad and you can do a better job than all of them! It may cost you less in the short term, but will it really be worth it in the long run??
The solution, we believe, is to RESEARCH YOUR OPTIONS WELL. Whether you decide to go with an organisation to volunteer, or approach a project directly, you must do your best to establish if that project is right for you, and equally if you are right for that project.
There are a number of resources out there to help you with your research. The Irish organisation Comhlamh has developed a “Volunteer Charter” which helps to challenge you motivation for wanting to volunteer (why do you want to volunteer? are you going because you think it will help your CV? are you going because everyone else seems to be doing it? do you want to “do your bit”? is it a combination of all these?). Also, the UK organisation “Ethical Volunteering” has put together a list of questions you should ask any organisation to help establish how suitable and worthwhile the project really is.
At Quest Overseas, we actively encourage all our students to ask these sorts of questions, during their application, at our training weekends and whilst overseas. It helps volunteers to get much more out of their experience and helps to ensure our projects are continually as worthwhile and suitable as we want and claim them to be.