Reg Charity 1143560
Thought Piece

Plan My Gap Year: A Guide to Finding the Right Charity and Placement for You

By Mikey
Successfully sending volunteers abroad for 10 years

Plan my gap year; this will be a super popular Google search for many students following the end of the term. Perhaps you’re looking to head off and teach in nursery schools in Kenya or you want to be part of an animal conservation programme in South Africa, or be involved in sports coaching in Ghana too?

In reality, the possibilities out there for anyone who wants to volunteer overseas on their gap year are endless! There are so many amazing projects that it might even be hard to whittle it down and pick one. This is definitely a positive, but you can’t sign up to them all at the same time, so you have to pick one to start with.  

The chance to spend some time away doing something truly rewarding that will also benefit the local community is a special life achievement to be savoured, so we’re going to help you find the right placement for your gap year with the following questions to ask the charity and yourself.  

Make it an experience to remember! 

How Can I Find the Best Volunteering Organisation?

In reality, there are so, so many charity organisations out there who are looking to take on volunteers that it can be difficult to see the wood through the trees. You want to think about which organisation can offer you the most worthwhile, ethical and fun experience at the best possible value for the money you are spending. 

To give you the best chance of making the right choice, you need to initially consider the ethical stance that each organisation has. How is it run? Where is your money going? These are the types of questions to ask and look for when you are looking for a charity to volunteer with. 

It’s easy for us to say, but to the untrained eye, how can you tell the ‘goodies’ from the ‘baddies’? It’s advisable to first look through the website, check out the images, the wording, and the general impression that you get from each charity from what they are giving you on their website and social media channels. 

What do these images tell you about the relationship the organisation has with its developing communities? What words do they use? Is the tone of a patronising nature? It might be advisable to avoid companies that use only pictures of children and have no images of young western volunteers working on their volunteer programmes in the community. 

Additionally, consider whether the charity you are looking at is saying encouraging, positive things about the placements, projects and communities they send volunteers on/to. Keep an eye out for those who define destinations in derogatory terms, and also be aware of those who claim that anything you do will be making a huge difference. Of course, you should feel that you are making a difference, and you will, but if things seem a little too far-fetched then you should probably look elsewhere.   

Does the Size of a Charity Organisation Matter?

While there’s absolutely nothing bad about the larger organisations, the old saying that bigger doesn’t always mean better is true in this instance. It’s certainly the case that a many of the best charities are much, much smaller than the most-recognised names but still have outstanding and well-established relationships with the local communities, the projects they are involved with and so on. There’s no need to avoid the smaller charities if you are simply basing your choice on the fact you’ve not heard of them. Do your research and the right placement will come to you.  

Comparably, commercial organisations can’t immediately be crossed off the list because they aren’t a not-for-profit charity. The latter can be a more appealing option for many and are often seen as more trustworthy, but the main thing is finding a charity that shows they are ethical and clearly support and benefit the community along with the volunteers who travel to help them. 

What Questions Should I Be Asking of the Charity? 

After the initial phase of finding the volunteer organisation you want to sign up to, you should then start looking at the following:  

What Does the Charity Do with the Money Received from Volunteer Placements?

Overseas volunteer placements come at a cost, and for many people, this isn’t cheap. With this in mind, you want to ensure that when you are forking out money to pay for an experience that your money is going somewhere worthwhile, right?  

If you want to ask the charity directly where the money goes, then you are quite within your rights to inquire before committing. What’s more, the charity shouldn’t have any qualms with providing an honest answer to your queries regarding where and what your fees will be spent on.  

Questions you can ask might include:

·     How much of my money is spent on each individual volunteer for accommodation, food, transport and training?

·     How much of my money is invested in the projects and the local communities?

·     How much of my money goes toward overheads and admin costs?  

With that said, you shouldn’t be deterred by a high fee. The essential things to remember here is that you are getting good value for your placement. A price tag is only relevant to what you are receiving in return. 

Will the Charity Provide a Full, Daily Itinerary for Me?

Any decent charity will have the capacity to give you detailed information on what exactly it is that you’ll be doing while you’re on placement. They should also be able to let you know how long you’ll be volunteering for each day. While it might sound apparent, there have been many volunteers over the years who have found themselves in circumstances that aren’t up to scratch when compared to the reputable charity organisations. You don’t want to be constantly tired and not have the opportunity to enjoy your trip because of being overworked, do you? At the same time, you don’t want to arrive and find that there isn’t enough for you to do as this can be just as bad.  

The takeaway here is to ensure you are getting a full, and proper experience that equates to what you are paying for.  

Is the Support I’ll Receive at a Decent Level?

Once you have arrived in your host nation and you’re set to get stuck into your volunteer programme, you now need to know who exactly will be taking care of you. Can the charity provide you with proper details on this and let you know who your points of contact are, what people’s roles are in the organisation while you are there etc.  

This a point to focus on if you are travelling alone for the first time. You may want to venture and explore life more independently, but it’s vital to have the assurances that there is a network of people to fall back on in the event that you need them.  

In reality, placements will almost certainly pass without any issues whatsoever, but if there are any matters that you feel need to be raised while you’re there, such as the project, its value, or what you and those involved are getting from it, then having someone to touch base with is paramount. Needless to say, if more serious problems arise, like illness or legal complications, having the ability to contact/see a person on the ground who can give you the right kind of support and advice is priceless.  

If you find that a charity organisation you are looking to volunteer abroad with offers no support of this nature, it may well be the red flag that they are less committed to the wellbeing and overall safety of volunteers. 

Now that you are filled with lots of information on how to assess charities to volunteer overseas with, have an amazing gap year and we hope you make some everlasting memories!

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