Volunteering, Volunteeringinfo.org, and an idea to help Project DCR

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about volunteering and volunteer organizations in Ecuador. It bugs me. I think if someone, including myself, wants to come and volunteer here then they should be prepared for what they are getting into and make a difference while doing it.

I also try to help get the different organizations and companies here connected.  This week I am going to see a friend who started his own foundation and is doing really good things with it to introduce him to another friend who took over another foundation and needs help with the school that she found herself the head of.  This is how things tend to happen here.

The concept of paying to volunteer really was hard to get my head around. I just didn’t get it. It took a while to go through all the ways that this wasn’t my thing and then figure out that the money is being used well if you find the right program.  Lead-Adventures is one of those companies who manages to provide programs that help and also make it easy to volunteer if you don´t have experience.  I write about them a lot as they are the good guys.  I like the good guys!

If you explore this blog you will find information about volunteering in the Galapagos, a hostel that has a last-minute cruise business who places volunteers at a school in the Andes, and different ways of backpacking such as working at hostels in exchange for room and board.  You will also find a post about Project DCR, a foundation that gets street kids in Ecuador into a school that they started.

The School needs support.  As  I came here in 2004 to help with a similar project and came back with the hopes of continuing to volunteer, I am all about trying to help with this project.  

One of the ways that I have figured out to help with the school is financially.  This is a trick for me as I am a backpacker who works a few jobs and tend to just squeak by.  So I asked around to the people who I write about here.  Lead-Adventures and Hostel Tiana made me an offer that works for both my budget and the needs of the school.

For every person that I send to them directly who books a cruise to the Galapagos or goes on a program to volunteer in the Galapagos, they will donate a percentage of the money spent to Project DCR.  That’s good stuff.  That’s why I like the good guys.

If you happen to be reading this and want to help and are interested in the Galapagos, please email me.  This is really important as I need to get you in touch with the right people and they need to know that you are being refered by me for the whole idea to work.  My email is Savvytravellerecuador@gmail.com.

Now back to the subject of volunteering.  This week I wrote an article about volunteering in Ecuador for a site called Volunteerinfo.org.

The following is an interview that the people behind Volunteeringinfo.org kindly agreed to for this blog.  The site was created out of frustration after trying to find information about volunteer projects.

I have shared this frustration and spent a summer looking for good places to volunteer in Ecuador before coming back and spending a month teaching four and five year olds English. If I had the benefit of a sight like Volunteeringinfo.org the time I spent researching would have been cut in half.

On the site people can find info about volunteer organizations, write and read reviews from volunteers, and also read articles written from volunteers.  It rocks!

Take a minute to check out the insights and thoughts of Martin and Alex about volunteering, the people that they hear from, and what they have learned about volunteer organizations from starting the sight.

 

1.You started volunteeringinfo.org after finding it hard to get information about volunteer organizations for a summer trip in 2008.  What have you learned about the people and places that make up the volunteering community from your experience with your site?

Martin & Alex: You’re spot on with why we started. If there’s one thing that has stood out within the volunteering community it would be how willing everyone is to provide you with information if you ask. We’ve got in touch with countless volunteers, volunteering organisations and other volunteering resources, and so far only one person has said they didn’t have the time to help out.

2.I’ve found that word of mouth is the main way that people hear about organizations that are making a difference and that are actively looking for volunteers in Ecuador.  You’ve made this process assessable via the Internet by spotlighting organizations and making it possible for volunteers to review their experiences.  Do you have a review that stands out as being positive, funny, or just refreshing?

Martin & Alex: That’s the impression we’ve got as well, small organisations find it difficult to reach out to people through other mediums simply because it’s too expensive and time consuming. Having only recently launched the site, we’re still working hard on getting more reviews. I guess the one that stands out the most is Jay’s Journey, which isn’t just an organisation review (of Inti Wara Yassi, amongst others) but a several-part story where Jay shares her adventures. You can read part 1, here:

http://volunteeringinfo.org/volunteer-stories/traveller-not-tourist-jays-journey-pt1.html

3.What are your experiences volunteering?  Would you go back and help with the organizations again?  If you were to choose to go anywhere and volunteer with no restrictions of budget or time, where would you choose and why?

Martin: As you mentioned, we looked in to volunteering a couple of years ago but couldn’t find the information we wanted until it was too late. Since then, we’ve been working on VolunteeringInfo, and are actually volunteer-virgins! If I could go volunteer for any   organisation, I would be quite keen to share my Business knowledge  with the girls at the Corner Café in Moshi, through KYGN  (Kilimanjaro  Young Girls in Need), or go and do up some schools and playgrounds in Thailand with Fun4Kids.

Alex: As mentioned by Martin, I too have not had the time to do any volunteering yet.  When I get the time and money though I would really like to travel to Moshi, Tanzania and stay at Hostel Hoff.  The reason I would want to stay at Hostel Hoff is that it was set up by a local Tanzanian and an Irish woman who want to give volunteers the opportunity to volunteer for free.  The hostel seems like a great, safe place to stay and meet other volunteers and the owner knows of good, free volunteering opportunities in the area.  As it would be my first time volunteering it would be reassuring to know that I would have access to someone who knows a lot about the area and is willing to help and also it would be a great place to get advice from more experienced volunteers.

4.A friend of mine who was in the Peace Corps and then went back to Africa to work with Care International has always said that there needs to be a resource like yours where people can list and find volunteer opportunities, what else would you add to your site if you had the time and energy that you think isn’t readable available for people who want to volunteer?

Martin: I’m glad to hear that, in fact we’ve received a lot of comments along those lines and we are trying our best to fill the gap! As for improvements, our main aim at the moment is simply to add more organisations, and more information.

Alex: We’re aiming to get reviews from previous volunteers for all the organisations we have listed because they really help people get a feel for the organisation and help them find an organisation that suits them, so adding more reviews is what I’m aiming for. I would also like to add to our list of blog links and do more interviews. We are always interested to hear what other people think of the website and so if anyone has any suggestions for what they would like to see added to our site or any improvements they wish to be made then please feel free to contact us via the contact form on the website.

5.I interview people who volunteer in Ecuador for my blog, the Bucketlst, and also ask them what they thought about their experiences as opposed to what they expected before they came.  this is partially so I can keep on top of what organizations are accomplishing and also to find out how they can improve communicating with prospective volunteers.  Do you find as a general rule there is one area that organizations need to focus on when it comes to giving information to people interested in volunteering?

Martin: Definitely, there are actually several areas where I think most organisations could do with a bit of improvement. A lot of prospective volunteers are unsure as to what level of training is needed (if any) and how/how much preparation is needed for their placement. Even more commonly, volunteers want to know where their fees are going (assuming they are paying). In short, most organisations need to provide more information about their placements directly on their websites and in their pamphlets, and not just send it out once you have applied for a position, as well as improve their transparency in terms of what they use your fees for.

Alex:  I agree with Martin.  I think that organisations need to be clear about what experience volunteers need before going and also they need to give clear information on what the work will include and how much support the volunteer will get.  An organisation advertising teaching volunteering opportunities, for example, needs to say how many pupils are typically in the class, if the volunteer will be in charge of the whole class for the whole day or if they will act as more of a helper for half the day, and also if the volunteer will have to plan all the classes themselves or if there is a lesson plan that they can follow.  If the organisations give a clear view on what will be involved in the volunteer work then it means that they will get volunteers more suited to the role, which means there’s less chance of a volunteer feeling unhappy and leaving early which is better for the organisations.

6.What’s left on your bucketlist?  do you have something that you’ve both crossed off in the last year?

Martin: I’m a bit of a (read: massive) dreamer, which means my bucketlist is nearly endless. I guess it would be a cliché to say “I want to travel the world”, but that’s one of the main things I would like to do; travel, and eat lots delicious local food. If I could spend the rest of my days travelling, volunteering, and taking cookery classes – that’s what I would do. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ve crossed anything off in the past year, apart, of course, from getting VolunteeringInfo up and running!

Alex:  In the past year I’ve managed to tick backpacking around Thailand and Vietnam off my list but I still have loads I want to do.  I want to save up money to take half a year out and fly to South Africa. I then want to spend the 6 months or so travelling up through Africa, stopping in Tanzania to spend at least a month volunteering, and ending up in Morocco. I’m hoping that once I’m out in Africa and have spent some time volunteering in Tanzania then I will have the confidence and knowledge to do some independent volunteering throughout Africa.  At the moment though, setting up VolunteeringInfo and searching for organisations to add to our website has provided me a lot of good information and advice that will be useful for when I finally get the time to go to Africa.

 

http://www.volunteeringinfo.org/volunteer-stories/volunteering-in-ecuador-jon-jared.html

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