Volunteering abroad can be an incredible experience and VBase has collated some useful information here to help guide you when deciding how to get started.
Which organisation to go with?
International volunteering is big business and University students are a key market for organisations that promote it. It's good to be aware of the different types of organisation who run international volunteering operations so you can decide who to give your money to!
These are organisations who are registerd with the UK government and put their profits towards supporting their charitable aims. A charity in the UK will either be registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator in Scotland, with The Charity Commision in England & Wales, or with The Charity Commision for Northern Ireland in Northern Ireland.
A charity will be issued a registration number by these bodies which they should display on their website, usually right at the bottom by their contact details or in their 'About Me' section. Members of the public can also search these databases, so if you're not sure if the organisation you're thinking about going away with is a charity, check on the national registers.
These organisations are usually registered in the UK with Companies House, which incorporates and dissolves limited companies. The list of incorporated companies maintained by Companies House is publically available.
The important thing to remember about commercial organisations is that they do not put their profits toward any charitable aims, instead the profit they make goes to the personal accounts of the company owners or shareholders.
These organisations are a type of commerical company who should also be registered with Companies House (and sometimes the Community Interest Company Regulator). Unlike commerical companies they put their profits, at least partially, toward a charitable mission or aim. Unlike charities, a social enterprise generates money through trading.
There is no official register of social enterprises, so theoretically a company could claim to be a social enterprise even if they don't actually put any profit towards their charitable aim. The best social enterprises may register with the Social Enterprise UK network, and should be open and transparent about their principles and how much money they give to support their charitable aim.
The type of organisation you volunteer with can have an impact on the cost of your experience. VBase recommends the following two charities which have relatively low cost options:
- Xchange Scotland run short to mid-term projects which costs £250 + transport costs, travel insurance and visa fees (these costs will vary with your destination). Long term projects of 6-12 months are available for 17-30 year olds and don't cost you anythng as they are funded by the European Commision!
- Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) run the International Citizen Service programme which is funded by UK Government's Department for International Development. International Citizen Service (ICS) provides overseas volunteer placements for 18-25 year olds and Team Leader placements for 23-35 year olds, and you are generally asked to pay £800 towards your placement.
These are just two organisaitons out of many, so feel free to shop around and compare deals. Most organisations will charge you around £1000 - £1500 for a short trip, but offer support with fundraising. Fundraising as a group can also make this more achievable, so talk to your friends about getting involved too!
Sustainability & Local Impact
One really impotant thing to think about when volunteering abroad, especially in countries considered to be in the Global South, is exploitation and sustainability. You should be confident that your actions while volunteering are genuinely fulfilling a need within the local community.
The best volunteering programmes work in partnership with local people, with projects led by and involving people who live there. This kind of inclusion ensures that a project is really needed in the community and that thought has been given to it's continuation after you have gone home.
The best organisations will have extensive information on how their projects are decided upon and run, and will be open about the involvement of local people. You might want to ask to see an annual report, or see if they include feedback from local people on their website. Often a representative from the organisation will be happy to talk to you about the impact their work has and what you will be contributing.
It is best to stay clear of any organisations which promote volunteering in orphanages. This kind of volunteering is not beneficial to children, and the majority of children in orphanages in some countries may still have a living parent who receive money for having their child removed.
You can read more about this issue at the Better Volunteering Better Care website.
Your safety is really important! A good international volunteering organisation will have an extensive FAQ on their website about your safety. You should expect to have a representative from the organisation on the ground in your host country to deal with problems, and you should be invited to attend a pre-departure training session to go through everything you need to know.
You might want to check the UK government's travel advice for the destination country, and check to see if there are any vaccinations you will need to get before travelling.
Make sure you ask the organisation if you're unsure or worried, as they will have extensive experience and be able to answer your questions. If they can't or won't answer your questions, it might be best to look for a different organisation.
If you are a UK, EU or EEA national and have been living in the UK for at least 12 months (with a UK address) you will be eligible to apply to any of these positions.
If you are an International student from outside of the UK, EU or EEA then you will not normally be able to apply for these positions unless you have indefinite leave to remain in the UK and have been living here for at least 12 months (with a UK address). You might be able to join a similar scheme in your home country upon your return however, and a list of such offices around the world can be found here: http://www.volunteerics.org/country-offices
International students may be permitted to volunteer abroad with other providers that we don't list here, and you should approach organisations to ask about this on a case-by-case basis.