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Why should I pay to volunteer overseas?

Why should I pay to volunteer when I am already giving up my precious time and helping others for free?

This is a question that we often hear. When you are researching volunteering, you may notice that some organisations charge a fee to volunteer, and that there can be huge difference in the fees charged. Usually the simple answer to this question about paying to volunteer, is that you pay a fee so that the stress of having your volunteer placement organised is done by someone else.

So how is my volunteer placement fee spent? At Development Together we believe in transparency. Keep reading to get a better understanding of where your hard earned cash goes……

1. Administration and Logistics – There is a lot that goes on in the background to make your volunteer placement happen. We identify appropriate partner sites, develop partnerships and contractual agreements, we review the site to make sure it meets our Safety and Security standards, we conduct Risk Assessments and we spend time with management staff from our partner sites to ensure their programs align with our company ethos. We also spend a lot of time creating a suitable itinerary (with input from our partner sites, past participants and locals) that meets the placement goals and objectives. We set up meetings, make bookings and we may be involved in your visa application process. All of these things take time (lots of time!) and we employ a small staff of experienced professionals to help us make this happen.

2. Professional Facilitator Support – Being accompanied on your placement by a suitably qualified facilitator is one of the main things that differentiates us from other companies. We believe in providing a professional facilitator who is qualified in the area our volunteers will be working in. Our facilitators have a good understanding of the culture of the country you will be in, the partner site and the project goals and objectives. They are also chosen for their industry experience and are able to provide you with the level of practical/clinical support that you need. When they are in-country with you, they work up to 12 hours a day (or more) making sure that your placement meets your needs, whilst also dealing with logistics and administrative issues, acting as an in-country liaison officer between you and partner staff, and dealing with any emergency situations that might occur. They are paid a fair wage for their time in this role and have most of their costs covered, as you would expect with any business trip.

Casper Cameron, one of Development Together’s Facilitators.

3. University Liaison – Many of our volunteers are university students who complete their placements as part of an Internship or Work Integrated Learning program to gain Academic Credit. In these instances, our staff spend time liaising with your university, signing contractual agreements, providing relevant documentation and meeting their Risk and Insurance requirements.

4. Pre-Departure Briefings – We pride ourselves on the preparation, advice and guidance that we offer to all volunteers prior to commencing a placement. We know that going into a new country for extended periods of time can be daunting, and we want to make the transition as smooth as possible. All our volunteers are encouraged to attend our Pre-Departure Briefing sessions. Along with getting a chance to meet your fellow volunteers and your Facilitator , you will be informed about: culture, partner site expectations, work hours, accommodation, food, health, safety, vaccinations, items to pack, visa processing, finances etc. Feedback from past participants is positive about these sessions, and people say it has helped to better prepare them for what they face when they are volunteering.

5. Food and Housing – We want you to be able to enjoy your time whilst away and a big part of that is identifying the right accommodation to suit your placement. We complete an Accommodation Risk Assessment on all our accommodation sites prior to booking them to make sure that where you lay your head each night will be safe, comfortable, and suit the environmental conditions where you are based. Dependent on the placement location, we also make arrangements for some of your meals to be prepared and provided, this means we need to ensure that the staff cooking your meals have access to appropriate food and food preparation areas, they are suitably qualified to cook the food, and they can provide options to meet most dietary requirements.

Development Together volunteers enjoying their daily lunch prepared on-site in Cambodia.

6. In-Country Orientation – We expect that our volunteers will try to adapt to and learn about local customs and practices. These practices can be very different to what you experience in your home country, so by attending our 2-3 day Cultural Orientation you will get to visit significant historical, religious and cultural sites that contribute to your understanding of how the country you are volunteering in operates, and why things are done a certain way. Attending our in-country Language Lessons also adds to your cultural understanding and gives you the chance to communicate more effectively with locals, often making them more willing to trust you and to accept you in their communities.

7. Trips and Excursions – Making sure that our volunteers also have fun and some “down time” whilst they are in-country is important to us. We create a fun weekend away for our teams of volunteers which means they can further enhance their understanding of the culture and take some time out from the partner site to relax.

Development Together volunteers hiking around Sipi Falls in Uganda. Image courtesy of Casey Hughes. 

9. Training and Resources – We develop resources for our volunteers to help guide them both prior to departure and during their placement. These include our Country and Partner Guides, Pre-Briefing Preparation Session Materials, and Country Reports from Past Participants.

9. In-Country Assistance – We make a provision from your placement fees to assist in the training and up-skilling of some of the staff at our partner sites. These staff members are primarily locals, and on occasion we may need to provide some training and development to make sure that they understand their role, so that they are able to provide appropriate support to you as required.

Development Together volunteer providing professional education for local staff in India. Image courtesy of Childlife Preserve Shishur Sevay. 

10. Providing 24-hour Emergency Response and Support – We undertake a strict Country, Partner Site and Accommodation Risk Assessment for each placement that we send our volunteers to. However, there are the odd occasions when things don’t go to plan and we may have to initiate an Emergency Response to ensure the safety of our volunteers. This means that we have someone “on-call” 24 hours a day to answer the phone and provide guidance and act as a liaison person should you need help, assistance or guidance.

11. Donation – We make a financial donation from your volunteer placement fee to our partner site. This donation assists with the purchase of project materials and resources that you use during your volunteer placement, offsets some of our partner site costs for hosting you, and assists with their day to day running costs. The amount of money we donate is dependent on the type of placement you are working on, the types of materials you may use, and the specific agreement we have with each site.

Development Together volunteers and facilitator creating resources in Ukraine. Image courtesy of Dzherelo Rehabilitation Centre. 

12. Additional Donation – We return 20% of our profits to our partner site. At the end of every financial year we give back 20% of our profits to one of our partner sites (each site is rotated through). We want to support community groups who are doing their best for others in a sustainable and ethical manner.

In a nutshell, there are several areas over which your placement fee is spent. From past participant feedback we know that our volunteers not only have an awesome time, but they also appreciate that they are able to financially contribute to the projects they volunteer on. In the end, when you are choosing a company to volunteer with, it all comes down to the company ethos, and the degree of support that you want from a volunteer placement. We do hope that you are able to make a commitment to get involved in volunteering.

For more information about Development Together volunteer placements go to www.developmenttogether.com

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