What to consider when planning a volunteering experience
Whether you choose to volunteer in a school, in construction, in conservation work or in the medical field, to make it a meaningful experience for both parties, we suggest in addition to the information provided, that you consider the following:
- Be realistic about your own skills and experience and what you can offer – If you are not appropriately qualified or have the relevant experience, then you should consider it a cultural exchange and a learning rather than teaching experience!
- Be openminded and receptive – Even if you are appropriately qualified and skilled, you can always learn more by exchanging skills and ideas.
- Fulfil a genuine need – Ensure you are filling a gap in skills and/or knowledge identified by the local community, rather than going in with your own agenda.
- Ensure your help is wanted – Your help should be at the request of the people you volunteer with to ensure your help is well received and you are not imposing yourself.
- Empower the local people in a sustainable way – Your contribution should help them improve their lives and have some benefit after you leave.
- Don’t take away local employment – You should work ‘with’ the local people rather than doing what they could or should be doing themselves.
- Be respectful – Just because you are from a developed country doesn’t mean you know better and the foreign way of life is better. There are a lot of things that can be learnt from the local people and culture that would enhance western values and lives!
- Research the local culture and customs and adhere to them, whether it be dressing appropriately or minimising affection in public, so you don’t offend the people you are there to help.
- Do not harm anyone or the environment – Harm from well-meaning volunteers is usually unintentional so put some time and energy into planning your trip and understanding the people and place you will be volunteering with before you go to help avoid this.
- Thoroughly research the organisation and people you will be volunteering with to ensure their motivation for having you is ethical, and they are doing what is in the best interest of the people
- Be clear about what any volunteer fees will be used for and double check when there. You should always try and ensure your expenses are covered so no locals are out of pocket but be clear about where the rest of the money is going. If you go through a volunteer organisation and they say after covering their overheads the rest goes to the family or village you are volunteering in, find out how much, how they select the families and villages, and how many times have they already supported the same people!
- Be wary of volunteer organisations that use words like long term, sustainable solutions and bringing long-term impact to local communities yet allow you to volunteer for 1 week without skills in the field you are looking to volunteering in!
- Check the legals – Remember that if you volunteer in an orphanage or other children’s home despite our being aware of the damage you may do, be wary of any orphanage allows you to stay overnight, be alone with the children or take them out without adequate supervision from the caregivers. They are breaking the law, and you can be liable too. Be very careful about working in a field for which specialised local accreditation may be required such as the medical field.
The team at SCAI have learnt a lot over the years and continue to learn from our local team, partners and communities we work with. The 15 + years of valuable experience working on the ground in Nepal has shaped the way we have developed our programs and has provided the basis for most of the information and advice above. It is with insight rather than professing to know all the answers that we share this information, so anyone wishing to volunteer in Nepal can fulfil their genuine desire to help in a meaningful way.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in learning more about our work or volunteering in Nepal. There is also a wealth of information and research with regards to orphanage volunteering and volunteering in general at www.rethinkorphanages.org/.