Q&A: "The longer you stay the more you can help your project achieve"

Posted on 15th May 2017 in Q&A, Volunteering Abroad, Kaya

In part 2 of 3 of our Q&A with Kaya, they tell us more about volunteering abroad, the application process and how to stay safe

Which countries are proving the most popular destinations to volunteer in?

Countries go through phases of popularity, due to news stories, changing perceptions of a location and other factors. Ebola affected the popularity of Africa for some time, and that has now moved on, with projects in Southern African countries now very popular again. We work in two locations that we affected by recent natural disasters – The Philippines was badly hit by Hurricane Hiyan in 2013 and Nepal experienced devastating earthquakes in 2015 – the attention these received in the news make these two of our most popular destinations to this day. But long-term development is as important as immediate aid and the work we are involved with, even at these locations, work to long-term sustainable goals.

How much does volunteering abroad generally cost?

With regards to cost, these vary greatly. It is important to understand what you are getting for your fees. The most important thing to remember is that there are cost involved in you living and working on any project, and if a project had enough money to pay for you accommodation, food and support, then they should use that to pay for local people to do the work. Projects in real need rely on volunteers paying their way and contributing to their costs to make a difference. International volunteers need to be managed and supported to ensure they understand the cultural context of the project work, are supervised in the work they do and have someone to turn to in case of any problems. Projects hire additional staff to do this which also has to be covered in project fees. Then placement advice and pre-departure preparation is also very important. Remember that vetting projects to ensure they are genuine and well-operated also means organisations need to do a lot of ongoing work behind the scenes to ensure when you arrive in country, that your time is well spent.Lower-budget volunteer projects generally don’t focus on individually matching people to the right project, or looking at how a person’s skills are best used, because this is time-consuming. At the higher end of the price range, some organisations may include additional excursions and activities. So it is important to understand what you are looking at in making your choice. Some countries have a higher cost of living than other, some projects have higher costs of operation (for example marine conservation with diving, or wildlife research needing safari-vehicles). Invariably, while you have these costs upfront when you volunteer, you need to spend a lot less money in country because you time is filled with the activity of our volunteer project. And longer-term placements can work out very economically.

What kind of time frames are available for volunteering placements, and how should you choose which time frame will be best for you?

You can participate in volunteering for any length of time. Some projects have longer minimum periods, with most Kaya projects have a 2 week minimum. HOWEVER, it is important to remember that the longer you stay the more you will learn and the better relationships you can develop, which means the more you can do (the more you will be trusted to do) and the more you can help your project achieve. 6-8 weeks is the average time our participants sign up for, but the most consistent feedback we receive, across all projects, is that people wish they would have stayed longer.

What is the application process like for securing a voluntary role and when should gappers think about applying?

We recommend people plan 3-6 months ahead for their projects. Flights are a lot cheaper to buy this far in advance, and it give you enough time to get your vaccinations and prepare for your trip. Having said that, we can arrange placements at very short notice - even a few weeks in advance, thought we do warn last-minute sign-ups to be prepared to be flexible if you are being accommodated for at the last minute. The summer is a particularly popular time, with people travelling in the holidays and many of the most popular projects for summer can get fully booked by late February, so if you have you eye on a particular placement, be sure to get in early to secure your space.

What are the ethical concerns surrounding the volunteering industry?

There are many ethical concerns that we consider within the field. The impact on a community of our visit is the most important aspect to consider and only by working alongside local people and local organisations can we ensure that the approaches taken and the issues tackled are those which are important to the local people. Bringing in volunteers should add to a projects ability to hire local people, not take any jobs away from local people. Any work carried out with children or vulnerable people should seek to protect them from potential harm by insisting on police background checks from volunteers, following child protection policies and having longer minimum time placements where necessary. Specifically in the field of orphanage volunteering, there are locations such as Cambodia and Nepal where terrible practises have led to a rise in orphanages as money-making enterprise, or set-ups that can be distressing to children in the long-run, so always ask questions about an organisations approach to this topic. In wildlife conservations issues of animal welfare and feeding the canned hunting industry are rife, so again it is important to work with organisations that have a good reputation for addressing these issues.

What are the key points that gappers need to remember when it comes to staying safe while volunteering?

Volunteering is often a great way to stay safe, as you join a well-structured program with an in-county support system and local staff who can advise you on how best to recognise the local dangers and avoid them. With that, remember to READ the information you are provided, LISTEN to local advice and REMEMBER to be more vigilant, more careful and take less chances than you might at home, because as a foreigner you will generally stick out.

Click here for more information on Kaya Volunteer

Read part 1 here

Read part 3 here