Are you actually helping?
We know that sounds like a trick question, but it’s not.
We’ve all heard horror stories of well-intentioned volunteers painting a school, only for another troop to arrive and re-paint it a few days later for no real reason. Well, for one reason: money.
Unfortunately, there are projects that are set up purely to cash in on the volunteering industry. At best, they’re a waste of time. At worst, they can do serious damage – like the lion breeding farms that contribute to the canned hunting industry.
Before you sign up for a project, think about who will benefit the most from your trip. If you’re petting wild animals or spending an hour in an orphanage, it’s probably you.
Do your skills match the job you’re taking on?
If you’re not good it at home, you’re probably not good at it overseas. Please don’t offer to build someone else a house if you still haven’t managed to put together that wardrobe from IKEA.
A lot of volunteers underestimate the value of the skills they do have. Marketing , website-building and accounting might not seem like glamorous tasks, but they’re actually the things that a lot of small charities need help with.
How will your visit impact the local community?
The best way to answer this is to imagine what the project would look like if there were no volunteers. Would they be paying local people to do the jobs you’re doing for free? Would the locals be acting and dressing the same, or are they being asked to “perform” for your benefit? Would local shops lose out on the extra revenue you’re creating?
What are they asking you to pay?
Not all volunteering fees are bad, but it’s important to find out where your money is going. A small fee to cover your food and accommodation? Fine. A little bit for administration costs? Reasonable. Several thousand pounds for not really anything at all? Wait….what?!
Do they have any past volunteers who can vouch for them?
Online reviews posted on an independent site (such as gooverseas.com) are usually the best way to get legitimate and unbiased information, but if you can’t find any, ask the project for a contact number or email address for one of their past volunteers.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that it’s not the project leader putting on a silly voice, but you’ll just have to trust your instincts (or try and arrange a Skype call).