Although I haven’t worked with many charities overseas, I did work with an organisation called Frontier and a small UK charity ‘East African Playgrounds‘. I learned a lot working with both of these organisations, each one is totally different and has different values. Frontier is a rather large organisation that offers a variety of volunteering programmes, whereas EAP is a small personal charity, which is very much like a family. EAP’s main focus is building playgrounds in communities in Uganda, whereas frontier has a variety of programmes all over the world.
A lot of people don’t know what to expect when working with a charity or organisation, so here are my top ten tips to make sure you have picked the programme that’s right for you.
1. Do your research
Make sure you research the charity/ organisation extensively. A lot of organisations offer programmes that are not 100% truthful. The programme I chose for Frontier, was a Teaching, Orphanage and Community health programme. When I arrived I learnt that it wouldn’t be possible to do the community health aspect of the programme as I had no qualification in health care and that it was designed for people studying nursing. I didn’t learn this information until I actually arrived in Ghana.
2. It’s okay to ask a million questions
Of course, it’s normal to ask questions. I think the organisations that are approachable and are happy to answer questions are probably the best ones to go with. With programmes that are overseas, you definitely want some more information, so you know what to expect.
3. Attend all the information sessions
Attending information sessions and activity days are vital. You need to learn about the charity/ organisation you’re working for, the day to day tasks of the trip and to understand where your money is going. Information sessions also mean you are able to ask the questions you need to ask and give you the opportunity to meet new people you may potentially be working alongside.
4. Be a responsible tourist
There are lots of articles in the news lately about responsible tourism and whether gap years and charity programmes are having a responsible impact. It’s important to do your research again and ensure that the programme is having a positive impact on the community. What is Responsible tourism?- It means minimising the negative social, environmental and economic impact on the local people and ensuring the well being of host families and communities. Make sure that the work that you will be doing is having a positive impact on the community and that your presence and work isn’t harmful.
5. Be prepared for anything!
You should read and research as much as you can, but sometimes you will encounter unexpected circumstances. The best thing to do in my opinion is to prepare for the worst. Prepare for no running water, no electricity or a functioning toilet, at least then you won’t be disappointed. If you are volunteering in a less economically developed country you may not be able to have the luxuries that you are used to, such as chocolate, wifi or electricity.
6. Read reviews, testimonies and blogs
Read personal accounts about the organisation you are working for or the project that you want to undertake. It’s the best way to read the accounts and to gain a true sense of how the work has impacted the volunteers. However be aware that everyone has a different perspective and some activities that volunteers have done may not be the same as you will experience.
7. Talk to your friends
If you are planning on going to a particular place or with a particular charity and one of your facebook friends has been, seek them out and ask questions. They will be able to give you advice and suggest whether you should go or not if you’re still unsure. Even if you haven’t seen that person for a while it’s always good to seek out their opinion about the place or organisation. They will be able to tell you the honest truth about their experience and will be able to offer advice and guidance.
8. Organise a meetup or contact the people that are volunteering with you
If you plan on going with a group then ask the organisation if they can put you in touch with other people that are going. That way you are able to form a friendship before you arrive and are able to help each other out with advice about packing, injections, malaria tablets etc. You can also organise who can bring what, that way you can pack lighter and share each other’s items. Meeting up is also really handy to organise fundraising events if your group are in the same area then organise a group activity to raise money and split the proceeds between all of you.
9. Be responsible in terms of health
Make sure that you visit your doctor before you go to any country to ensure that you are up to date on vaccinations. In regard to malaria tablets, shop about. Some places offer the same tablets a lot cheaper, so do your research. With any allergies or health information make sure you inform the organisation that you are working for and make sure that you have enough of the medication that you need. Also check that you have a good coverage of insurance, just in case.
10. Check out the country that you want to visit.
The Government travel advice website is good, but sometimes it can be a bit off-putting, as personally, I think that they are over cautious. But it will probably be useful for travellers especially parents who want to know and understand more about a particular country. It’s important to understand a country’s laws and customs, such as women wearing shorts or places where homosexuality is illegal. Respect their laws and customs. Check out the website.
There are so many different organisations out there offering you an experience of a lifetime. Sometimes there are just too many to choose from. Speak to people and ask for recommendations, it’s important to choose the right organisation for you.
Check out East African Playgrounds here, which are an amazing small charity to work for.
Check out Frontier here.