Tag Archives: global

Online volunteers link communities with donors, trainers & partners

From February 2001 to February 2005, I had the pleasure of directing the United Nations Online Volunteering service, based on Bonn, Germany at the UN Volunteers program, part of UNDP. Originally launched as a part of NetAid, the service is a platform for UN agencies, UN volunteers, independent NGOs, government community programs and other mission-based initiatives working in or for the developing world to recruit and involve online volunteers. I continue to read all updates about the service, on the lookout for emerging trends, new challenges and suggested practices.

Below are links to updates from UNV’s OV service blog in 2015, 2016 and 2017 that are great examples of how virtual volunteering is about so much more than just completing tasks, and how the value of volunteers – online or onsite – isn’t the amount of hours they give, or a monetary value for those hours.

I have to admit that the story about the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) engaging online volunteers was a pleasant surprise, given how reluctant they were to engage with online volunteers back in 2001 or so. And it’s also worth noting that most of the blogs are written by online volunteers:

Online volunteers link a community in Africa with donors, trainers and partners
17 July 2017
Lake Nokoué is on the southern coast of Benin in West Africa. It is a community threatened by pollution and deforestation, and is also affected by congestion from sediments and the traditional acadja fish farming practice. Online volunteers played a substantive role in mobilizing a grant of USD 40,000 from the GEF Small Grants Programme for the Benin NGO “Association des Propriétaires d’Acadja de la Commune de Sô Ava” (APACSO). They also helped identify an expert in aquaculture to deliver an onsite ten-day training in fish farming for youth, women and low income fishermen, funded by an NGO from Belgium. APACSO also received three partnership requests from local organizations.

Fostering food security in Brazil
28 October 2016
The Chamber of Agriculture of the São Paulo State government in Brazil tasked online volunteers with supporting a participatory agro-ecological project in urban and peri-urban areas of the municipality Álvaro de Carvalho. The project aims to engage around 300 beneficiary families in vegetable farming in public spaces to enhance rural development and food security.

Online volunteers lend their voice to the UNDP 2013 China National Development Report
06 October 2016
Two UN Online Volunteers collaborated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in China to record the audio version of the China National Human Development Report 2013,Sustainable and Liveable Cities: Toward Ecological Civilization. The report explores the current urban transformation in China from the perspective of human development, and discusses the recent history of China’s cities, key challenges and projections for the future, including measures that could guide urbanisation towards the goal of liveable, sustainable cities. The audio-book adaptation is among the first signature UN publications made available in digital audio media. It serves audiences with different reading and learning preferences, and has helped publicize the report for a wider impact.

Online volunteers research new trends and global best practices in ICT innovation
14 August 2016
ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICT). ITU promotes the collaboration of the public and private sectors to develop global ICT networks and services. From March until September 2015, ITU engaged a team of seven UN Online Volunteers to research new trends and global best practices in ICT innovation. In the conference’s planning phase, the UN Online Volunteers mapped over 700 relevant initiatives undertaken by governments, universities and the private sector to promote ICT innovation hubs, clusters and parks in 115 countries.

Online volunteers worked to strengthen critical databases
20 March 2016
13 online volunteers worked on strengthening the UN Evaluation Group’s (UNEG) database of evaluation reports to improve the quality and use of evaluation across the UN System. The volunteers helped prepare brief descriptions of reports gathered from all UNEG members including the specialized agencies, funds, programmes and affiliated organizations. Online volunteers also collected meta-information used to classify and tag each report to make it searchable. By helping strengthen the database to improve the quality and use of evaluations, volunteers will be ultimately improving the effectiveness, efficiency and relevance of the UN’s performance. Also, online volunteers assisted in the development of a database of training providers for the International Association of Professionals in Humanitarian Assistance and Protection (PHAP). The volunteers researched and listed training opportunities relevant to the humanitarian sector, and provided input to the development of new functionality in order to enhance the database.

Online Volunteers support the NGO Centre for Batwa Minorities
06 February 2016
Together with the Centre for Batwa Minorities (CBM), an NGO based in Kampala, Uganda, online volunteers from around the world helped advocate for the rights of the Batwa people and worked to empower communities and individuals of this ethnic minority in Uganda. More than 30 online volunteers worked on projects ranging from researching the human rights situation of ethnic minorities in Uganda, developing successful campaign concepts to protect the Batwa community, drafting proposals, managing and translating CBM’s website, to using social media to promote the objectives of the organization.

Volunteers worked together online and on the ground for a survey in Bangladesh
02 February 2016
The United Nations Volunteers programme in Bangladesh involved a team of more than 50 online volunteers to reach out to Bangladeshi people and add their voices to the MY World survey. Online volunteers translated the survey’s ballot card and other texts into Bangla. Volunteers on the ground disseminated the survey in many different regions of Bangladesh and talked to people about their development priorities to collect the data. The MY World survey assignment also brought together people of different backgrounds and geographical locations.

Volunteering online for climate change mitigation
14 January 2016
For more than two years, 13 UN Online Volunteers supported the Fundacion Desarollo y Ambiente (FUNDA) on a research project that analyzes, categorizes and maps types of vegetation and landscape to predict the effects of climate change. The volunteers’ created a database for types of vegetation and topography in the Caribbean, Orinoco and Páramo regions of Colombia, verifyied the species’ botanical names, georeferenced the information using Excel and ArcGIS, and mapped the correlation of vegetation, climate, and geomorphological processes. After training the volunteers on the research approach, FUNDA set up working groups as well as weekly Skype meetings for tracking the team’s progress and assigning new tasks.

vvbooklittleMy experience at the UN working with both online volunteers and NGOs around the world who were also working with such, or wanted to, greatly influenced the writing of The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. This book, co-written with Susan J. Ellis and myself, is our attempt to document all of the best practices of working with online volunteers, from the more than three decades that virtual volunteering has been happening. It’s available both in traditional print form and in digital version. If you read the book, I would so appreciate it if you could write and post a review of it on the Amazon and Barnes and Noble web sites (you can write the same review on both sites).

Also see:

The Virtual Volunteering Wiki: a free resource featuring a curated list of news articles about virtual volunteering since 1996, an extensive list of examples of virtual volunteering activities, a list of myths about virtual volunteering, the history of virtual volunteering, a list of research and evaluations of virtual volunteering, a ist of online mentoring programs, and links to web sites and lists of offline publications related to virtual volunteering in languages in other than English.

Our LinkedIn Group for the discussion of virtual volunteering.

Safety in virtual volunteering

Virtual volunteering: it’s oh-so-personal

Why Do So Few Women Edit Wikipedia? Insights into virtual volunteering

Even if all your volunteers are “traditional”, you need to explore virtual volunteering

EU Aid Volunteers on track to include virtual volunteering

The future of virtual volunteering? Deeper relationships, higher impact

My favorite virtual volunteering event originates in… Poland

Blogs & articles re: virtual volunteering NOT by me

Fans of celebrities & virtual volunteering

virtual volunteering is probably happening at your org!

Incorporating virtual volunteering into a corporate employee volunteer program

Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU (virtual volunteering)

Research on USA volunteerism excludes virtual volunteering

What effective short-term international volunteering looks like

I’m not kind when it comes to discussions of pay-to-serve international volunteering. Most programs out there are voluntourism, focused on an unskilled volunteer paying to have a feel-good experience abroad, doing an activity that would be oh-so-much more effective by local people being paid to do it themselves, and spending just a few weeks somewhere – not at all enough time to make a sustainable, positive impact on local people or the environment. Voluntourism is primarily about the volunteer, not the people in the developing country, who would prefer to be paid to build a school for their children themselves, care for the community’s orphans themselves, help take care of local wildlife themselves, protect their own environment, etc.

That said, not all pay-to-serve programs are purely voluntourism: there are some terrific programs that require volunteers to pay their own way, such as Bpeace traveling business mentors and Humanist Service Corps (more on pay-to-serve programs I think are worthwhile here). There are also examples like this: students from the College of Engineering at Oregon State University going to Kenya to help a small village create a series of water projects to give them sustainable, ongoing access to clean water; the local Kenyan people benefitted from the project because they defined what they wanted, and they worked alongside the students so that they could take on more and more responsibilities themselves.

In contrast to pay-to-serve programs, there is the Peace Corps Response program, which is part of the Peace Corps, and that places highly-skilled volunteers in short-term assignments abroad, from four to 12 months. Participants do NOT pay to participate. It’s open to US citizens, and it represents what effective short-term international volunteering can look like: volunteering that’s focused on building the capacity of local people rather than just doing things for them.

In doing some research on the program, I found this terrific blog by Brenna Mickey, who did a four-month assignment in the Peace Corps Response program in Port Vila, Vanuatu, and whose experience represents what a short-term, effective volunteering experience can look like. It’s also a great example of what a tech-related volunteering gig can look like anywhere, at home or abroad. Her specific job title was web design and development consultant for the Ministry of Youth and Sports. Among other things, she worked

  • “as the project manager or product owner, creating a scope of work and requirements documents after meeting with stakeholders of the website, managing expectations and deliverables.”
  • “as an UX strategist, working with the department in the Ministry through card sorting, developing a site map together, sketching out wireframes and talking through user flows on our website.”
  • “not only as the designer of the site, but the developer as well. I taught myself a new content management system and dove in headfirst to writing responsive CSS and HTML5 instead of handing over my designs and CSS to the developers.”
  • “But most importantly, I worked as a teacher, making sure knowledge was transferred to my coworkers in Vanuatu during the web design process, including how to update the CMS after I left.”

Also, “I happened to be in town during another Peace Corps Volunteer’s project, which had been under development for more than two years. The SMART Sistas ICT Camp for Girls was a week-long camp where girls were brought to the capital and taught the fundamentals of informational technology. I was asked to teach an Intro to Web Design course during this camp.”

Please note that Peace Corps Response initiative, and the entire Peace Corps program, and all United States Agency for International Development (USAID), are under threat of severe budget cuts by the current Presidential administration in the USA, as well as by current Congressional leadership. I encourage you to write your US Congressional Representative, your US Senators, national media and your local media, and let them know what you think of these proposed cuts.

Also see:

secular-based short-term humanitarian volunteer initiative working in Ghana

There is secular-based short-term humanitarian volunteer initiative called the Humanist Service Corps (HSC) that launched fairly recently, and they’ve already had a big success with one of their first projects: HSC has been running a medical records/medical screening to provide free health screenings for the rural community of Kukuo in Ghana’s Northern Region. In the process, HSC volunteers have trained local people to create a bilingual medical records system that simplifies and increases healthcare access for an entire community. As the HSC fundraising page for this project notes, “For the first time in their lives, the 1,250 residents of Kukuo will have access to their health information in a language they understand.”

The project is more than you might think: “Results as of April 6th, 2016: 681 patients screened, 67 cases of malaria, 27 cases of hypertension, 116 malnourished residents, 19 children missing vaccinations, two cases of Type II diabetes. Additionally, our medical outreach has helped uncover two child brides and five teenage girls kept out of school to help their families.”

The project involved training local people themselves to collect and organize paperwork, input the information into computers, double-check work and organize data. Since their training by HSC volunteers ended at the end of April, the local Kukuo Health Screening Volunteers have been running every aspect of the project themselves, with an HSC volunteer available to supervise, troubleshoot, and support. According to this blog about working with the Ghanaian volunteers, “They check each other’s screens for errors, sort and file all the screens during processing, maintain lists for future follow-up, and are working to create the digital and paper copies of the much-anticipated Kukuo Census.” Each of the local volunteers was also helped by the HSC volunteer to create his or her own an email address, write a resume, understand and discuss their letter of recommendation from HSC and be able to talk about what they did for the project and the skills that they have mastered… All of the volunteers did very well with this additional training, especially considering that many were touching a computer for the first time.”

But the work is not done. “We need to fully fund the project by June or we will not be able to screen the entire Kukuo community.” You can donate to this HSC project here. Or, you can become a monthly donor to HSC.

Shortly after the HSC volunteers first arrived in Ghana, they sat down with the HAGtivist Podcast to share their motivations and expectations for the year of service. Great idea to do a podcast with volunteers!

2013 stats – UN’s online volunteering service

The United Nations’ Online Volunteering service, which is managed by the UN Volunteers program out of Bonn, Germany, part of UNDP, has released some 2013 statistics about its service. In its March newsletter, UNV reports:

In 2013, the number of organizations that joined the service continued to grow (by 18% compared to 2012). 63% of the new organizations that benefited from online volunteers’ support were NGOs and other civil society organizations.

The number of online volunteers remained stable. Of the 11,328 online volunteers mobilized in 2013, 58% were female and 60% below 30 years old. 60% of the volunteers were from developing countries and 2% indicated they were people with disabilities.

By “remained stable”, I guess UNV means the number of online volunteers didn’t increase over 2012 numbers. What I wonder is what UNV is really counting – are these 11,328 people that expressed interest in online volunteering assignments, or people that actually participated in those assignments? Sad to say that most volunteers that sign up for assignments never actually participate in such, usually because the requesting organization never replies to the expression of interest.

What I love is that 60% of the volunteers were from developing countries – that’s something that has been true since I was directing the service from 2001-2005. It’s a number that shocks some people, but not me; when I talk with people in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Northern Africa and East Asia about virtual volunteering, the excitement is palpable.

The majority of the 17,370 online volunteering assignments posted benefitted education (18%) or youth (14%). 8% were gender-related. The majority of assignments benefitted projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (38%) and projects with a global reach (33%).

But I’d love to see the numbers regarding types of virtual volunteering tasks – how many were web design-related, how many were related to consulting or advising in the area of a volunteer’s expertise, etc. And which proved most popular with people signing up for assignments?

On the Virtual Volunteering wiki, you can find a page listing more virtual volunteering research and statistics from a variety of researchers and other sources.

Motorcycle (scooter) ride for Cambodia!

My personal motto is transire benefaciendo, or, “to travel along while doing good.” A lot of people want to combine a trip abroad with volunteering or some kind philanthropy. Here’s my advice on how to do good while abroad (including by motorcycle). And here’s what that kind of DIY volunteer-and-do-good trip can look like:

A good friend of mine, Dave Guezuraga, who has traveled most of the world by motorcycle (and stayed at our house and been subjected to many games of corn hole), is taking a break from his travels-for-fun to put together a group ride in Cambonia to raise money through United World Schools (UWS) for its efforts to provide schools in inaccessible, underprivileged and post conflict regions, including in Cambodia:

It’s a motorcycle trip across Cambodia that anyone can participate in, regardless of experience, with the aim of having a bit of fun and helping a local charity supporting Cambodian Children. For 2012 the ride is a scouting run to check out roads and routes, therefore numbers are limited… In 2013 it will be open to absolutely anyone who can get there – so start saving!

 

In a nutshell… Take 2 weeks off work, and approximately $2000-$3000 (including flights to/from Europe, Australia or America)

 

Get yourself to the kick off town in Cambodia by the morning of Monday the 30th of January 2012.

 

Make friends with the other riders you find in the town.

 

Buy a little motorbike at a good price ($300-$500), and try to get your new friends to help you prepare it for a 1500km trip by the end of that day.

 

then repeat this…

 

Get together for dinner, sample the local Angkor beer and agree on a destination for the next day.

 

Next morning, ride to to the destination while having maximum fun… Until Thursday the 9th of February 2012… On Friday the 10th, donate the bike, your medical kit, and whatever other money you have raised for charity.

 

Say goodbye to your new friends, and make your way back to wherever you came from.

 

And then do it again (or not) in 2013. Participants on either/both trips must buy a Honda Dream 125cc Motorcycle (4 Speed, Automatic Clutch) in-country, and then auction the bike off at the end of the ride (the auctions of the bikes are to raise money for charity). And, of course, participants will be encouraged to blog about their experience, tell friends, etc., and encourage donations to UWS.

Full details at the Ride for Cambodia web site. And feel free to write Dave directly through the web site if you have questions – and tell him Jayne sent ya!

Also see my advice on how to do good while abroad (including by motorcycle).

International Volunteer Day for Economic & Social Development – Dec. 5

It’s not too early to start planning for how your organization will leverage December 5, International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development. This isn’t a day to honor only international volunteers; the international in the title describes the day — meaning it’s a global event — not the volunteer.

It’s a shame to turn the day into just another day to celebrate any volunteer, rather than specifically those volunteers who contribute to economic and social development. Such volunteers deserve their own day. There are plenty of days and weeks to honor all volunteers and encourage more volunteering; why not keep December 5 specifically for volunteers who contribute to economic and social development? Why not keep it unique?

Even if you are in a “developed” country – the USA, Canada, Norway, France, whatever – you have volunteers that are engaged in economic and social development. Here in the USA, there are volunteers staffing financial literacy classes for low-income populations, training unemployed people to enter or re-enter the workforce, helping refugees and new immigrants access much-needed resources and services, training seniors to use computers and the Internet, using theater, dance and other performance as an education and awareness tool, and so much more. Those are all examples of volunteering for economic and social development!

And in addition to keeping this day special, let’s also be careful of how we talk about volunteers. For instance, back in 2009, I got this note in a mass email sent out from United Nations Volunteers:

This is the time to recognize the hard work and achievements of volunteers everywhere who work selflessly for the greater good.

Selflessly?

Volunteers are not all selfless! Volunteers are not all donating unpaid service to be nice, to help the world, or to make a difference for a greater good. Volunteers also donate unpaid service:

  • to gain certain kinds of experience
  • for a sense of adventure
  • to gain skills and contacts for paid employment
  • for fun
  • to meet people in the hopes of making friends or even get dates
  • because they are angry and want to see first hand what’s going on at an organization or within a cause, or to contribute to a cause they feel passionate about
  • to feel important

None of those reasons to volunteer are selfless — and all of them are excellent reasons to volunteer, nonetheless (and excellent reasons for an organization to involve a volunteer). These not-so-selfless volunteers are not less committed, less trustworthy or less worth celebrating than the supposed “selfless” volunteers.

 

Please – no more warm, fuzzy language regarding volunteers! Let’s quit talking about volunteers with words like nice and selfless. Volunteers are neither saints nor teddy bears. Let’s start using more modern and appropriate language to talk about volunteers that recognizes their importance, like powerful and intrepid and audacious and determined. Let’s even call them mettlesome and confrontational and demanding. That’s what makes volunteers necessary, not just nice. Let’s increase the value of volunteers with the language we use!

 

In short, let’s give volunteers their due with the words we use to describe them.

And just to be clear: by volunteer, I mean someone who is not paid for his or her service, and his or her “stipend” that’s supposed to merely cover essential expenses so the volunteer can give up employment entirely during his or her stint as a volunteer isn’t in fact more than some mid and high-level government workers of a country are making. Yes, that’s a dig.

International Volunteer Day for Economic and Social Development was declared by the United Nations General Assembly per its resolution 40/212 in 1985.

Also see Learning From The “Not-So-Nice” Volunteers, which I wrote back in 2004.

Here’s how I volunteer (no stipends yet!)

Volunteer managers in USA: learn from other countries too!

Erin Barnhart put together a “Volunteerism and Volunteer Management” course for Portland State University, (PA592 CRN 82727) and I was thrilled to be asked to teach one of the modules, particularly since Erin took such a different approach to putting together this university-level course: she didn’t just focus on the basics of volunteer management, though that was certainly there. And she didn’t segregate everything regarding the Internet into a module at the end (Internet use was integrated into ALL aspects of the recruitment, support and involvement of volunteers – as it should be!). She also included discussions of all volunteers – board members, interns, pro bono consultants, executives on loan, etc. – not just the traditional volunteer model (you have a task or role onsite, you recruit a volunteer to commit to doing that task or role for the rest of his or her life, etc.).

This comprehensive course will cover topics ranging from core competencies and emerging trends and tools for building and sustaining a successful volunteer program, to understanding the broad-reaching impacts of volunteer service and effective volunteer management, to engaging individuals in innovative and accessible ways to serve in their local neighborhoods, via their computers and smartphones, and in communities across the globe.

I was thrilled to be able to do a brand new series of workshops I had never tacked before:

How the practices of volunteering in other countries, how international volunteering – long-term volunteers, short-term volunteers that pay for the experience, online volunteers that help organizations in countries different from their own, people that volunteer as they travel internationally – can teach us to be better managers/coordinators/leaders of volunteers here in the USA.

I believe that my experience working with volunteers abroad, and being immersed in international development for most of the last decade, has made me a much better manager/coordinator of volunteers, and it was a fascinating, intense experience to do research and put materials together that could help the students in PSU PA592 – all of whom are working professionals with volunteer management experience under their belt – to learn about other countries’ views of and practices regarding volunteering, particularly very poor countries.

I love teaching. I try to give my workshops a lively, audience-oriented feel. I use case studies to illustrate points, focus on both what’s happening now and what is trending, encourage a lot of student participation, and develop activities that get class participants designing strategies they can use immediately. My goal in any training is to give participants a base on which to further build and improve long after a class is over. My schedule fills up very quickly. Contact me and let me know what kind of training you might have in mind!

Tags: volunteering, volunteers, community, engagement, international, volunteerism, volunteering

voluntourism: use with caution

An incendiary report by South African and British academics focuses on “orphan tourism” in southern Africa and reveals just how destructive these short-term volunteering programs can be to local people, especially children.

It works like this: Western tourists pay an organization to travel for a few weeks, even several weeks, to a poor but exotic place where foreign volunteers are supposedly needed to help countless abandoned children, giving love and support to desperate young children. Providing an emotional connection with needy young children for a few weeks is at the core of what these voluntourists want to experience.

This report brings up many of the things I do in my own caution about volunteering abroad, such as how these programs can take away local jobs. But in addition, as this report notes:

There are serious concerns about the impacts of short-term caregivers on the emotional and psychological health of very young children in residential care facilities. The formation and dissolution of attachment bonds with successive volunteers is likely to be especially damaging to young children. Unstable attachments and losses experienced by young children with changing caregivers leaves them very vulnerable, and puts them at greatly increased risk for psychosocial problems that could affect their long-term well-being.

VSO UK said a few years ago that young people are often better off backpacking in developing countries, traveling and getting to know local people simply as paying tourists, rather than paying for most “voluntourism” experiences. VSO’s criticisms of paying-to-volunteer companies are absolutely right on:

a lot of young people are exploited by gap-year volunteer charities, being told that they are going to help people when, in reality, the volunteers are just making money for the company by paying for their feel-good experience (and these volunteers could have had just as meaningful experience had they simply traveled in the country as tourists.

A lot of pay-to-volunteer companies cater to the needs of the voluntourist rather than the local communities they claim volunteers will support. The voluntourist gets a feel good experience, but the local people don’t really benefit in any tangible way. These companies can contribute to that old-time colonialist thinking: we’re from the West, and we’re here to help you poor, pathetic people. That’s not a way of thinking that should be cultivated. And I get anywhere from annoyed to enraged by the attitude by many in the west: I’m a good person with a big heart and therefore I should be sent to a poor country, housed and fed, and allowed to cuddle orphaned babies and hug disaster survivors.

In addition, some voluntourists — people who pay for a feel-good experience — are not properly trained, supervised or supported, and are put in dangerous situations and are permanently injured or even killed in accidents that were easily preventable. For instance, a British student was electrocuted while working as a conservation volunteer in Fiji and a panda cub bit off part of the thumb of an American volunteer who was feeding the animal at a reserve in southwest China.

But with all that said, I also believe that not all of the pay-to-volunteer companies out there are misguided or exploitative. There are companies that employ local people in most paid roles with the company, that put the volunteers in positions where the volunteers are learning from local people as much, if not more, than they are teaching/leading/working, that keep volunteers as safe as any tourist to the country can be, and that give volunteers a great (nothing short of great for that amount of money), immersive experience. There are companies that open the eyes of Westerners about the realities of developing countries and what it really takes to transform communities, with volunteers knowing up front that their few days or weeks aren’t going to make any difference in the lives of local people in the long-run, and learning that its their post-trip actions and new knowledge that could make a difference for those local people in the long-run.

Here are directories of short-term volunteering organizations, online and in print, that can help you identify credible programs:

I strongly recommend the book How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas, by Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega, and Zehara Heckscher. It will give you details about what international volunteering really entails, why some organizations require that international volunteers pay, suggestions on how to raise funds for such, and an excellent overview of your options for fee-based overseas volunteering. But best of all, it provides tips and worksheets that can make your volunteering have real impact for the local people, and benefits for you long after the experience is over.

Here’s THREE endorsements of pay-to-volunteer programs that I will make, but only because I know the people heading these organizations, I know they don’t take just anyone (candidates must have some basic skills), and I know what difference these organizations make for local people (not just how warm and fuzzy they make the participating volunteers feel):

World Computer Exchange

      (WCE). Volunteers travel in teams of seven and assist local WCE partner organizations that have received WCE computers. Volunteers assist with troubleshooting, training and technical support. To be eligible, volunteers must be 21 years of age, have some prior tech skills, and a willingness to participate in technology-related tasks and education. For certain trips there are some language requirements. Trip participants also visit local families and enjoy a variety of opportunities to experience the local culture. Also, accepted volunteers must pay the costs for their trip (flight, etc.).

Unite For Sight and its partner eye clinics and communities work to create eye disease-free communities. “While helping the community, volunteers are in a position to witness and draw their own conclusions about the failures and inequities of global health systems. It broadens their view of what works, and what role they can have to insure a health system that works for everyone…” This program was featured on CNN International. Volunteers, both skilled and unskilled, are 18 years and older, and there is no upper age limit. It is obligatory for accepted volunteers to purchase insurance coverage through Unite for Sight’s recommended provider, and volunteers are responsible for all travel arrangements, visa vaccine requirements, lodging, airfare, food, and any additional expenses.

Global Xchange, a program of VSO UK, proclaims proudly, “Looking for a holiday? Look somewhere else.” It’s made up of two programs: Youth Xchange, which gives 18-25 year olds from the United Kingdom the chance to spend six months making a real difference to the lives of disadvantaged people; and Community Xchange, a six-week programme for community workers and practitioners to learn how to help young people become active global citizens, and how to get different cultures interacting with each other and exchanging ideas.

If you have volunteered overseas and paid a fee for the experience, I strongly urge you to offer comments about that company on Yelp or your own blog. Some of the most frequently asked questions on online groups, such as YahooAnswers or The Thorn Tree, are regarding experiences with fee-based volunteering abroad programs. People ask, “Has anyone heard of such-and-such organization, and is it a good idea to use them to go to Africa to volunteer?” You could help others make the right choices by reviewing the company that sent you abroad, on Yelp or any other customer review site.

If you want to volunteer abroad on a short-term gig, and are wondering how you are going to pay the two or three thousand dollars to make it happen (your payment covers transportation in the country, housing, training, staff supervision and support, work permits from the government, and security), see: Funding Your Volunteering Abroad Trip. And buyer beware: ask the tough questions of the company, and ask to speak with at least two people who have volunteered abroad with the company. How the company reacts to your questions will speak volumes about the quality of the company.

If you want to volunteer long-term (six months – two years) in a program that does NOT require you to pay (PeaceCorps, VSO, UNV, etc.), and you are highly-skilled (you speak another language in addition to English, you are a successful professional or business owner who can train others in some areas of your expertise, you have volunteered or worked extensively locally, in your own community, in capacity-building activities, etc.), see this resource. If you aren’t highly-skilled but want to engage in activities over the next few years that will make you a more viable candidate for long-term volunteering programs, this same resource will also help you.

July 17, 2017 updateCharities and voluntourism fuelling ‘orphanage crisis’ in Haiti, says NGO. At least 30,000 children live in privately-run orphanages in Haiti, but an estimated 80% of the children living in these facilities are not actually orphaned: they have one or more living parent, and almost all have other relatives, according to the Haitian government.