Volunteers Organizations: Find a Meaningful Volunteering Opportunity Part 1

Volunteers Organizations; first things first – there are few different ways you can approach volunteering, from organizing your own volunteer placement, joining an organized volunteer programme or going the route of a structured and self-funded volunteer programme.

A little confused? I was. Over the next three pages (Volunteers Organizations Parts 1, 2 and 3) I’ll briefly explore each approach and the resources and organizations that can make them happen.

volunteers organizationsVolunteers organizations; lend a hand where it counts. Photogragh courtesy of Médecins Sans Frontières

For me the word ‘volunteering’ conjured up intrepid images of being immersed in adventure in far-off lands. But when I started researching the logistics and organization involved, the reality of it started to seem quite daunting. But it needn’t be.

By taking advantage of a structured, organized programme much of the guess work, uncertainty and organizational hassle can be taken away. Most of these organizations will help with a number of aspects including in-country and pre-departure support, visas, insurance and accommodation. Obviously these characteristics will vary between schemes, however there is one constant, and that’s the price!

I’ll be honest; some of them don’t come cheap! Volunteers organizations come in all shapes and sizes, offering placements that cater to the wants and wishes of most applicants; some specialise in positions that are quite specific such as education and wildlife conservation, while others offer specialised placements within the fields of science and medicine. Highly skilled placements can sometimes expect a daily stipend for day-day living expenses.

Broadly speaking, structured, organized volunteer programmes come in two types:

  • Volunteering as part of a group, where teams of volunteers undertake set projects combined with adventure activities such as rafting and trekking. This approach can be great fun if you just want to dabble in a bit of volunteering as part of a broader experience. This style of experience in my opinion could be good for short periods, but may lack the depth of immersion within a foreign culture that you might expect by undertaking an individual placement.

  • Individual placements, where an organization places you with a project that matches your skills, requirements and abilities; either working by yourself or alongside other volunteers. By taking a more independent approach, you have a greater degree of autonomy in shaping your placement. Alongside this freedom you can also have the reassurance of a high standard of in-country support. Many volunteers organizations have in-country liaison stuff that monitor and look after volunteers.

So, on the up-side, structured and organized volunteer programmes usually consist of all-inclusive packages that arrange most or all aspects of your placement. This saves you significant amounts of research time and the trauma of all that pre-departure planning that goes with setting up living arrangements and the like. Having an in-country representative for support is also a big bonus; it’s a great comfort to know they’re there should things turn to custard.

Thorough pre-departure briefings are part-in-parcel of the ‘package’ approach. If you’ve never travelled in the developing world, then these sessions will help prepare you for life during your placement. They broadly cover aspects such as cultural issues, health and safety and basic language guidance.

Like any approach to volunteering, there are some obvious draw-backs. The major one – cost. As all-inclusive packages, costs can be fairly step. Being highly structured and organized might not appeal to all, so be aware if you feel you need a greater sense of self-sufficiency, a programme with a greater degree of flexibility might be more suited.

If you’d prefer a more independent, flexible approach to volunteering, click here to view my Volunteers Organizations Part 2 and Volunteers Organizations Part 3.

Also being part of a group or in a highly structured environment may become slightly isolating from the community you’re serving in and a barrier to interaction.

Without further ado, here’s a varied selection of volunteer placement volunteers organizations to get your research underway:

Australian Volunteers International (AVI)
The most established Australian based volunteer organization, AVI places skilled people in countries throughout Africa, Asia and the Pacific.
To see what’s involved, view their website here

European Voluntary Service (EVS)
Established to promote volunteering within Europe, EVS is funded by the European Union. A small allowance is paid every month and travel costs, accommodation and food is also covered. Applicants must be between 18-30.
For more information on EVS, see their website here

Greenforce specialise in environmental and conservation based initiatives. With all training provided, projects are based around the world. You could be carrying out environmental conservation in Borneo or helping with community based efforts in the Amazon on Greenforce’s Andes-Amazon Expedition.
For more information visit their website here

Go Differently Ltd
Focusing primarily on South East Asia, Go Differently offer short-term opportunities and volunteer/adventure packages.
For more information, click here to see their website

International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC)
As one of the largest relief organizations in the world the Red Cross operates at domestic and international levels. To partake in an IFRC operation takes a lot of training and commitment; the IFRC are usually the first organization on the ground in an international crisis.
For more information click here for details

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders)
Specialising in emergency medical aid, MSF is one of the most established voluntary medical organizations in the world. In the event of disaster and crisis, they mobilise specially trained teams and equipment to cope with any situation.
View their website here for more information

Peace Corps
With a focus on sending long-term volunteer placements to currently 77 countries, Peace Corps volunteers spend 27 months working within communities overseas. To be eligible, you need to be a US citizen of the age of 18 and over.
View their website here for more details

Raleigh International
A youth orientated volunteers organization aimed at personal and social development. Programmes are approximately 5 weeks long and offer environmental or community based assignments combined with a team focused adventure.
For more info visit their website here

Skillshare International
Skillshare sends highly skilled professionals to partner organizations in Asia and Africa to share their knowledge and expertise. Roles tend to focus on economic empowerment, environment, health and education.
For more information please visit their website here

Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
Working to fight poverty in developing countries, VSO is one of the world’s leading independent volunteer based international development organizations. VSO matches skilled professionals with in-country organizations in need of expertise and advice.
For further info, visit their website here.

Volunteer Service Abroad, Te Tuao Tawahi
Working in 12 countries world-wide, New Zealand’s foremost volunteer agency aims to promote health, education, economic development and social development. Placements last between five weeks and two years for highly skilled Kiwis. For info, visit the VSA website here.
For info, visit the VSA website here.

Thoroughly research and understand the structured, organized programmes you’re interested in before committing yourself. As you can see, there are many organizations providing an array of options, each with many permutations in how you could approach your volunteering experience.

My advice is to take your time; slowly does it when researching volunteers organizations. Having confidence in the organization you select allows you to relax and enjoy what will be an amazing time.

Find a Volunteering Opportunity Part 2

Find a Volunteering Opportunity Part 3

Return to Volunteer Work Overseas

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