Volunteering is a type of unpaid work that you choose to do and that helps other people, a local community or the environment.
As well as making a positive impact on those you help, volunteering can improve your wellbeing, expand your network and help you develop skills that help to enhance your CV. By volunteering abroad, you can also gain international knowledge and awareness of the wider world.
However, there are factors to consider when planning to volunteer abroad.
- It is important to think about your reasons for wanting to volunteer abroad. Volunteers who succeed and will benefit most by volunteering aboard will be ones who are going over with the mindset that they will be learning from the community rather than helping them
- Try to find a project that will let you build on your existing skills. In this way you are likely to be more useful to the local communities
- On top of this, think about how you will apply your learning upon your return to your home country. If you are volunteering about a cause you are particularly passionate about during your time abroad, think about how you will further help this cause on your return
We have identified several volunteer providers for you to research and potentially source a volunteer placement. You can find these providers under the Volunteering section of Global Opportunities on Blackboard. These are placements which have undergone initial checks by the University, but we encourage you to conduct your own research to see if they are suitable for you.
Choosing an organisation to Volunteer Abroad with
How can you tell if an organisation you are working with is ethically sound and is making a positive impact in the community it works in? How can you ensure that you will be taken care of and that any payments you make are for the right reasons? These points will help you to decide these when considering an organisation to volunteer abroad with.
How are people being represented on their website and their marketing materials. Avoid organisations that talk about volunteers ‘saving the world’ and instead look for emphasis on partnerships and change being made from within.
Who asked for the project to be set up? Is it responding to a locally defined need? Who’s in charge on a day-to-day basis? As much as possible, the project should be directed by local people.
A project that is creating a long-term dependency on volunteers will have a negative impact on the community it is working in.
Make sure the organisation has a long-standing relationship with the community/local organisation and is using volunteers to add capacity where needed, using existing structures.
Ask about the organisation’s exit strategy – what happened when the volunteers go home?
Displacement and cost of volunteers
Is the volunteer the best person to fill the role or could the job be done by a local person? Who is covering the costs of the volunteer being there? Could the need be met locally? Some projects can disrupt the local markets which can have a negative impact on the community’s development potential.
The impact should be talking about the impact to the local community and not about the positive impact on volunteers.
What is the overall mission and vision of the organisation/project? Do they have a proven track record? They should be able to provide you with an impact report to answer these questions. If they are a new organisation then they should have a monitoring/evaluation framework which is in place to describe how they will measure impact.
Volunteer recruitment, training and support
Avoid projects which have no application process. Application processes reflect how much the organisation cares about the community the project is a part of.
Is there a volunteer role description? Will you get any in depth training before you go? What in-country support will you have? Will you be debriefed on your return to your home country? These are all very important things to find out.
Organisations should be transparent with their finances. You are within your rights to ask for a breakdown of what your money will go on should you be paying money to take part in the project.
Organisations should be happy to answer any questions you have relating to the above if you can’t find the information on their promotional channels.
UNICEF Cambodia conducted research and found that volunteering in orphanages in Cambodia had become an industry which was causing more harm than good:
“The lack of background checks on volunteers not only increases the risk of abuse but the teaching of foreign languages by volunteers actually encourages parents to send their children to institutions. These are among the reasons why UNICEF Cambodia does not support volunteering in orphanages.”
Many International Development organisations reflect this view. We would recommend you don’t partake in any volunteering projects which involve volunteering in orphanages abroad.
You can read more about the issues surrounding orphanage volunteering via ReThink Orphanage, a global, cross-sectoral coalition working to prevent family separation and the unnecessary institutionalisation of children.
Registering your volunteering placement
Once you have found a suitable volunteering placement please notify the Student Mobility Team by emailing [email protected].
There will be several documents you need to complete before your volunteering placement can be approved by the University.