Hi, I have been researching on volunteer abroad in the past few months. I want to volunteer in Africa in the coming summer. My sister went to Kenya with Me to We two years ago and she was really disappointed as the program was basically designed for rich kids who need the experience on their cv before going to college. Their accommodation had a very high standard and most people didn’t really do anything in that month. I am not aiming to change the world but I still want to do something that’s meaningful even if it only helped one person. My friend introduced Project Abroad to me and I also came across IVHQ. But there seem to be some negative comments about these two organizations. I would appreciate that if I can get some advice on which volunteer organization to choose from.
Hello Rainbow Ran,
Thanks a lot for reaching out to us.
You have done your research already, this is great. Have you visited already our facebook group https://www.facebook.com/groups/454436357989887/ . Here you can find more reviews https://www.facebook.com/groups/454436357989887/files/ . This article will help to get an idea, on how most companies work in the host countries: http://www.responsible-volunteering.com/2016/10/voluntourism-companies-outsourcing/ and this is about review platforms: http://www.responsible-volunteering.com/2016/09/connections-review-websites-ivhq-reviews/
Your sister had an experience with a company that did not satisfy her, as the program was designed for the volunteers but not the people she was supposed to help. Unfortunately this is very common, to be customer orientated and to follow the law of supply and demand. The projects are designed for the volunteer rather than the target groups. If a company sends far more than 5000 volunteers a year to more than 33 countries, it can be argued that the focus is rather on quantity but not quality.
The application process of both companies you mentioned are superficial, Anyone will be accepted. Both companies are tourism agencies without employing development professionals, They focus on the service but not the projects. Maybe there are other hints on how target group orientated they are (how they advertise, evaluations, website structure, and transparency)?
The projects of these companies depend mainly on the in country team (Project Abroad has their own team in the country) or the local partner (IVQ works with local institutions). Make sure you know how the in country team works: Check out the local partner IVHQ teamed up with, check their achievements, history, reports, approaches and the donors they have etc. . Maybe you can also find information on the in country team of Project Abroad (this is more challenging, as they register their own companies). Sometimes the IVHQ partners were set up for the purpose to work with IVHQ and not to help the community (the motivation of why a non-governmental organization was set up is definitely interesting in my view, as this reflects their main focus). Are the main activities sending volunteers or is the volunteer program embedded in a long term development program (capacity building, funding etc.)
There are also other options:
Smaller companies with less volunteers and programs can focus often better on the impact the volunteers have, the preparation process can be more personal.
You might apply directly to a local organization
You might apply directly to local agencies (IVHQ partners or agencies that do not have a huge company as a partner).
Most organizations that actually work professionally and sustainable will not work with the mentioned companies for varies reasons (would an English organization work with volunteers for one or two weeks that have not been screened?). Also, very often there is not enough work for the huge number of volunteers.
If you do choose to go with IVHQ ask the right questions. Give the company you choose a call, check out if they know their projects and local partners well. Will they match you depending on your skills or will it end up to be like a lucky draw?
-Get in touch with former volunteers before paying (don’t fall for excuses why this is not possible)
-Make sure you know your placement and what you will be doing early enough
-Ask how you can prepare best
-Ask about previous experiences and why this project needs volunteers. Is there an exit strategy?
-Have the programs been evaluated?
-Where does the money go to (also the founds the local partner receives)
Make sure most of your questions are answered. Of course not all of them will be answered to your satisfaction but most of them should.
Here are some good articles about what to ask:
Please let us know if you do have more questions. Good luck and please let us know about your experience!