How To Start Volunteering: The Basics

Thousands of volunteers leave their native countries every year for trips and travel around the globe. The practice has become so popular that the ‘gap year’ traveller has become a common trope. VOFAIR is dedicated to opening up this industry to the scrutiny it deserves, whilst encouraging the positive that can grow from 'voluntourism' done right. But once you've decided to go, it can be hard to figure out what comes next. The choices of type of volunteering and location are vast. From short term to long term, from teaching English to farming, there are programmes out there for all ages, abilities and income. We at VOFAIR have put together the key questions to keep in mind while choosing a destination and planning your trip.

With so many agencies out there, volunteers need to be savvy. Most mainstream charities and NGOs seek out those with specific qualifications. Whilst tourism companies rarely match volunteers to jobs with skills and, therefore, do not have the best interest of the host community in mind. Remember to research! Ask where your money goes. Ask what percentage finds its way to the host community. Try to stay clear of the easiest options- many agencies are nothing more than glorified holiday companies.

Volunteering can be hard on your pocket. It takes time to raise money to travel abroad, and if you’re on a budget, be realistic. Only two months to fundraise? Pick a closer location or shorter time period. Be prepared to look for unusual ways to make money. Remember to research where all your hard earned cash is going!

Depending on where you are going and where you are from, visas can be difficult. Don’t leave this mundane element to the last minute, or you’ll find you may not be volunteering abroad at all! It is not rare for people to be turned away at boarders due to the wrong visas. Research, look online, check out the local legalities.

Do you want to pick up a new language? Does the idea of being stuck in a foreign country, knowing none of the local language fill you with dread? Remember to check your expectations; a few weeks abroad won’t leave you fluent. Nor will a nation with the same language be free from those tricky cultural differences.

Personal Interests/Strengths 
Whilst your experience will affect other people in the host communities, you do have to keep yourself and your interests in mind. Hate teaching/children? Perhaps a TEF programme isn’t for you. Be honest with yourself about your skills. Ask yourself: can I really be helpful in this role?

Solo Vs Programmes
Would you prefer the company of a group? Prefer to have the logistical elements sorted for you? Or, would you prefer the freedom to travel as you wish? Would you enjoy the challenge of organising the entire trip on your own? There is so much variety in different programmes across the globe in terms of autonomy, you can always find an organisation that will cater to your needs.

Take your time, perhaps volunteer at home to really hone your interests and skills and discover if you can be useful abroad before parting with any money!

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