Why Pay To Volunteer? by:Lauren Mackay
Gap year students looking for something different, challenging and life changing to do with their year off are increasingly making volunteering part of their travel plans. Not only is volunteering a fantastic way to develop skills, make friends, get some valuable life experience, it's also a brilliant opportunity to do something worthwhile.
The concept of paying to do something so worthwhile can seem a little strange, but is in fact a vital part of keeping projects around the world going. Volunteer providers often come under fire and it's not surprising; it's all too easy to forget that getting volunteers to projects takes a lot of organisation, supporting volunteers in-country takes money and giving projects the help they need doesn't come cheap. It is, however, important to feel that the money you spend is a worthwhile investment, so here are a few points to help set your mind at rest
A surprisingly large safety net
Though setting off into the sunset and making a difference alone does have a certain appeal, knowing that there will be someone there to help if anything goes wrong is always reassuring. Volunteering is no package holiday, there won't be someone holding your hand every step of the way but going through a company will provide you with a global and in-country support network.
In-country you will normally get an airport pickup and a local project coordinator who will give you full country orientation, take you through your paces and stick around to make sure your adventure stays an incredible experience. Not only a comforting presence, the programme coordinator will be a fountain of knowledge; they'll be able to show you the sights tourists never see and give you a unique insight into local life.
With companies like Real Gap, you will also have 24-hour access to a dedicated emergency back-up team, ready and waiting to deal with emergencies like missed flights or minor concerns like where to buy shampoo. It's easy to feel brave when you're sitting comfortably at home but you can never over-estimate the importance of knowing there's someone there if you need them.
Keeping it local
Choosing your company carefully will go a long way towards determining how well your money is spent. Responsible volunteer companies such as Real Gap only work with pre-established local projects, with local project coordinators. This means that you can be sure the help you're giving is genuinely needed and that the work you're doing will make a lasting difference.
Part of your fee will cover the cost of your accommodation, food and expenses in-country, which will all normally be sorted out for you. Responsible volunteer providers will ensure that you stay in locally owned accommodation, eat local food and use local materials; this means that you will be making a substantial financial investment in the local community just by being there.
It's important for companies like Real Gap to know what they're talking about, so some money will go towards visiting the projects, making sure they're up to scratch and carrying out risk-assessments. This enables companies to see exactly what needs to be done, check that things are as they should be and to make sure projects are suitable for volunteers.
This also means that companies can provide you with the best preparation possible; it's essential to match the right volunteer to the right project so your trip will be carefully chosen to suit you, something that wouldn't be possible without all of the in-country information.
Dedicated teams spend hours researching and making sure you know exactly what to expect, and are armed with all of the resources you'll need. Pre-departure packs are a travellers bible, taking the hassle out of planning they are packed full of useful information, from packing tips to visa and currency information! A hive of information at your fingertips!
Better to be safe than sorry
Turning up on the doorstop of a local school in Southern Thailand might seem like a cheaper idea, but what if the school has closed down? You might look a lot more kindly on your fee when you consider the security that booking through a company will bring.
Companies like Real Gap make sure their programmes all have IPP insurance (International Passenger Protection); this basically means that if the project is cancelled, if the company becomes insolvent or if for any other reason your trip is cancelled, you will get your money back. Plus, if your flights were included as part of the package they'll be ATOL protected, so you will be able to get home and advanced bookings will be refunded too.
Spreading the word
Having hundreds of projects crying out for help is no good if no one knows about it. Marketing may not seem like a worthy cause, but it is a massively important part of recruiting more volunteers and making sure that the good work can carry on.
Getting the word out there will spread awareness and ultimately give projects a much-needed helping hand, that's why a part of your fee will go towards recruiting volunteers just like you. Offices full of staff in the UK may not seem like a necessity but they're there to give you support when you need it, and are a huge part keeping vital volunteering work going.
To find out more about volunteering through a company take a look at Real Gap's website http://www.realgap.co.uk
About the author
Hey just a few words about me...I have been well and truly bitten by the travel bug! Amongst other places, my favourites have been Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand and Costa Rica! For me, travelling is about much more than 2 weeks being burnt by the pool, it's about seeing interesting places, meeting fascinating people and making a difference where you can! I would like to offer some advice and tips from my many travels if I can!