Tips for Prospective Volunteers PDF Print E-mail

I recently spent 4 weeks volunteering at some locally run projects in Tanzania. The first was a primary school and the second an orphanage. Despite my relatively short amount of time volunteering I learnt a lot about the process of volunteering, both from my own experiences and also from talking with other longer term volunteers.  The following tips are just from observations from my time in Tanzania. Some may be very obvious but I hope they will be useful to anybody wishing to do similar volunteer work.

Changing a Life PDF Print E-mail

This small article will serve two purposes. The first is to illustrate how individuals can actually make a great difference to someone’s life during their time volunteering and to hopefully encourage those of you about to do some volunteering to use your initiative to see what you could do to help the people you come across. The second purpose is more short term and it’s to try to raise some money to help send a child with spinal tuberculosis to school.

The story starts in Moshi, Tanzania. I recently spent 4 weeks volunteering in Moshi, staying at the brilliant Hostel Hoff: a hostel designed for volunteers where you can be put in contact with many good local organisations who need your help.  It’s very well run and I can’t praise it enough.

At this hostel I met a woman, Masha, who started volunteering at the same time as me. Her volunteer work was based around home visits to locals suffering from diseases and conditions which meant they were too ill to leave their remote houses. On one of her home visits she met a 12 year old boy called Benson. Benson had a strange spinal condition which caused his spine to jut out of his back at a very acute angle. The doctors in Moshi could not diagnose or treat this condition and it had got to the point where Benson could not walk and even found it painful to lie down.  Masha took photos of this child’s back and used contacts from volunteers back at the hostel to email the pictures to several European and American doctors.  Within a week a doctor had come back with the diagnosis of spinal tuberculosis and an organisation, Africa Surgery, had got involved offering advice on where Benson could get treatment and offering to pay for the surgery in Ghana. This was a fantastic result. It had only taken a couple of photos and just under a week to secure some hope for Benson’s future!

Masha started fundraising as soon as she returned to the US as she would still need to pay for the flights and accommodation in Ghana. She has so far managed to raise an incredible $11,000 and is currently back in Moshi now as Benson’s legal guardian ready to take him over to Ghana for his treatment.  Since being back in Moshi, though, she has discovered some worrying things about Benson’s grandmother. The grandmother is an alcoholic and has been trying to steal the food money that is being sent to Benson. She has threatened to kill him if he goes to the restaurant where an account has been set up for him to eat. Because of this, Masha is now sending Benson to a boarding school so that he can have the best chance of starting a new life.  For this, though, another $5000 needs to be raised.  If you want to read more about Benson’s story and perhaps donate a little something to the cause then you can go to the fundraising page here: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/help-a-tanzanian-boy-get-spinal-surgery/71992

Thanks to Masha and her initiative Benson will receive this life-changing surgery and will have a much brighter future. This is just one story which shows that an individual volunteer really can improve the life of someone in need.  I hope this encourages you to really make the most of your time volunteering and I hope that you can donate a dollar or two to help Benson escape his home life and get an education.

VFCD - A Fraudulent Organisation PDF Print E-mail

After being contacted by Lorraine Elletson, a former VFCD volunteer, a couple of months ago, we decided to suspend VFCD's VolunteeringInfo organisation listing. This was due to concerns raised by Lorraine which lead us to believe that VFCD may be fraudulent. Upon contacting VFCD (which, to the best of our knowledge, is an organisation consisting of only one man, Mr. Son) and detailing our concerns, it took several weeks before we received a reply. When we finally did, the answer did address many of our concerns; indeed, VFCD included a copy of their e-mail communications with Lorraine and these appeared to show that VFCD were not at fault - the problem was that we had been given a copy of the same string of e-mails by Lorraine, and the two did not match up.

After raising our concerns on VolunteeringInfo, we were contacted by another disgruntled ex-VFCD volunteer who, like Lorraine, had paid for more than they received. Finally, we were contacted a couple of weeks ago by a third volunteer, Alex, whose experience with VFCD had been similar to the other two. Indeed, the below excerpt from his e-mail summarises the experience of all volunteers we have been in touch with quite well:

"Upon our arrival in Sapa, it transpired we would be teaching at a school in the town, not in a rural area, and staying in a hotel in the town as well. This was not what we had signed up for, and further to this our contact in Sapa told us that Mr Son wanted another $400 from us to cover accommodation costs. At this point we knew we had been scammed, and refused to give them another penny. We thought hard long and hard about the school's involvement with such untrustworthy characters as Mr Son, but decided to do our two weeks of teaching regardless. The time we spent at the school was great, but proved to be the only times when we weren't pursuing Mr Son for our money back or just being generally annoyed by the whole thing.

We have now returned to Hanoi, where we have just been to the address that was at the foot of some of his initial emails he sent to us back in February/ March of this year. Upon arriving at this address we have found that he has moved on elsewhere. We called him at this point (strangely he still answers his phone to us, despite probably 30 calls/text messages/emails from us asking him to refund our money). He then told us he would send us his new office address over a text as the reception was bad. We hesitantly agreed. No text arrived and his phone was then turned off. "

Based on the above, we have decided to suspend the VFCD organisation entry permanently. We would also strongly urge anyone considering to volunteer with VFCD to think twice before sending over any payment.

Volunteer with children while travelling in Thailand, Indonesia or Kenya PDF Print E-mail
The following article was submitted by the International Humanity Foundation

Current student or recent graduate? Your learning could be applied to a unique ‘Voluntourist’ programme at one of the International Humanity Foundation’s orphanages!

The International Humanity Foundation (IHF) is seeking forward-thinking, dynamic students and graduates to contribute to our orphanage and education centers in Indonesia, Kenya and Thailand. IHF has grown over the past 25 years under the visionary leadership of Carol Sasaki (CEO) and the dedication of thousands of volunteers from around the world.

IHF is distinct from other NGOs in this field as we practice the ‘Pass it on’ ethos in marginalized regions. We offer the privilege of education to those who without our organization could not reach it. IHF has no central headquarters, as each center is a product of its environment and follows the cultural code and norms of its host country. IHF ‘Voluntourists’ teach English, computer and math classes as well as maintaining relationships with local staff and the local population at every centre. The relationships formed between the children and Voluntourists are lasting as they remain in touch for years afterward.
Voluntourists work four hours a day at the center, six day a week. There is time to sightsee and tour the nation, but work remains an important priority. This is a unique position within IHF as it allows the volunteer firsthand experience in the field, also having time to explore the local area – without the need to do international tasks like other volunteers. With the chance to experience Balinese Hinduism, the busy capital of Jakarta or life in Indonesia's Islamic state, Indonesia's rich and deep cultural diversity means each of our centers here offer their own unique experience. Our Kenya center offers access to numerous wildlife parks and safaris, and our Thailand center is in the vicinity of incredible temples, waterfalls and scenery.

Those who are secure without the comforts of home gain the most from this valuable opportunity. We are looking for people who will bring a caring and nurturing attitude with the children. Your time will be divided between the children and your own chance to visit the local tourist attractions. It is very important to adhere to the local cultural codes. Fluency in English, both written and spoken is essential.

Costs: IHF is committed to offering a flexible, affordable service experience. There is no application fee, and the weekly fees for individuals are USD $150 and for couples and families only USD $200 to cover the costs for their room and board, both of which are very simple, at the center. Only married couples and immediate family will be allowed to share a room due to strict cultural codes.

Please take the time to familiarize yourself further with our organization - www.ihfonline.org. If you have any questions at this time, feel free to e-mail one of our helpful volunteers - This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

If you’re ready to apply visit: http://www.ihfonline.org/volunteering.

VFCD - Fraudulent? PDF Print E-mail

The following article was written by Lorraine Elletson, and does not directly reflect the standpoint of VolunteeringInfo. After being contacted by Lorraine we searched for further information on VFCD but failed to find much of interest, as most of the online postings found were posted by VFCD officials. We have contacted Trinh Son and asked for an explanation of the events detailed below, but 12 days later we are yet to hear back. The decision was made to temporarily suspend VFCDs VolunteeringInfo listing until the matter has been cleared up. If you have any information, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

In early October last year, I went to Vietnam hoping to work as a volunteer for VFCD. I sent 450 US dollars in advance as payment for 1 month. Before leaving Spain, I wrote to the director Trinh Son and asked him about the visa situation- whether or not a 3 month visa was possible. I also told him that I did not wish to be placed in any assignment until after my arrival. On his website, he had mentioned working with women and fair trade. That is what I was interested in doing- not in teaching. I never made any contract with him.

After arriving, I was put up in a hotel for 3 nights- the last night of which I paid myself. After that, I was taken to the volunteer house where I spent 2 nights. I, therefore, spent 4 nights at VFCD’s expense.

At the volunteer house, I met a Canadian-Chinese girl Catherine and Sabrina Syben- a German girl who was supposed to work as an intern for UNESCO. (VFCD uses the logo of UNESCO on his websites and sets up fake websites to attract volunteers. He also uses the information from application forms to add names to his sites). Sabrina told me about how she had been badly treated by Son in Sapa- north Vietnam- and had lost a lot of money which he refused to pay back. In addition, she had had to pay for her food and accommodation (both of which were supposed to be included). I then realized that I did not want to work for VFCD and wrote to Son explaining this and asking for my money back minus the 4 nights and moved out of the volunteer house with the above-mentioned 2 girls.

Son then wrote back saying that I should feel guilty, that I had broken a 3 month contract with him and that he had rented the volunteer house just for me. He then asked me to pay him 2 months more- 900 US dollars more. I then understood that I was dealing with a very dishonest man and that the only way of dealing with this would be to report him to the UNESCO office as suggested by the Chinese-Canadian girl.

I then went twice to the UNESCO office and spoke to Mr Thang and to his intern Van. Mr Thang said that he would try to help and requested my bank details in case Son paid me back what he owed. He also said that he doubted that the Vietnamese police could help because I had no contract. I kept writing to UNESCO but rarely got a reply. When I did, they said they were still working on the case.

In the meantime, I started to write to various websites to report my experience in an effort to save other volunteers from having to have such an experience. I also learned of many people who had also been cheated by Son.

Before leaving Hanoi, I asked a Vietnamese friend to telephone Son and to tell him that I would telephone the police if he did not pay me back my money. He then told this friend that he did not mind this since the police were on his side and they could force me to pay him 2 months´ more. He has said the same thing to other volunteers who have threatened to call the police.

I am very sad about all of this and also sad that this man is cheating so many people and ruining the reputation of UNESCO and creating a very negative image of Vietnam as a very corrupt country.

Lorraine Joan Elletson

Final Comment

Lorraine has been in contact with several other people who claim to have been victims of this reported scam, and has provided us with a list of 11 people and how much money they report to have lost to VFCD. As we have not been in direct contact with said people, we will not publish their names, but can reveal an average loss of $5363 USD, with the highest reported loss being €1600 or roughly $2200. The average of the remaining 10 victims was $315.

Buying a Brick in Peru.. PDF Print E-mail

Traveller Not Tourist - Buy a BrickIt may not be the first thing to come to mind when considering what you can do with £10, but it's not quite as silly as it sounds, either. Those of you who have visited VolunteeringInfo before may have come across Jay Chavez' Traveller Not Tourist-related series of articles entitled Jay's Journey. Well, the British arm of their charity is now trying to collect enough money to build a new home for the Casa Hogar Luz Alba orphanage in Peru, and they're selling 'bricks' for £10 each - and aim to sell a total of 3000 of these virtual bricks.

As a small token of gratitude to Jay and Traveller Not Tourist for all the great information and support they've given to VolunteeringInfo, we bought a brick as soon as we found out. If you would like to buy one too, simply head over to the Traveller Not Tourist website, and you will find all the information you need right on the first page.

Tangare Foundation & Sustainable Bolivia Reviews PDF Print E-mail

Sustainable Bolivia

The following review was written Tessa, a former Sustainable Bolivia volunteer. The full review is available in the Sustainable Bolivia organisation entry.




Sustainable Bolivia is an organization located in Cochabamba, Bolivia, that connects volunteers with over 20 local partner organizations, and then provides housing and an international community for the duration of the volunteers' stay. Through Sustainable Bolivia I spent two months working for an organization called Performing Life in the fall of 2010. I would recommend Sustainable Bolivia to anyone looking for a volunteer experience in their area-- they matched me perfectly with an organization where I was able to do work that was meaningful to both myself and those I worked with, offered support whenever I had any issues, provided me with a room in a house full of other international volunteers, and facilitated the creation of a safe and supportive community with which to share my time abroad.


 Tangare FoundationThe following review was written by Sejal, a previous Tangare Foundation volunteer. To read the whole review, click the Tangare Foundation logo or the following link to the Tangare Foundation organisation entry, and scroll down to the "certified review" heading.



I volunteered at La Hesperia biological reserve through the Tangare Foundation for 6 weeks in November – December 2010 and really enjoyed my experience. The reserve is both remote and easily accessible at the same time, making it the perfect place to enjoy the beauty of the cloud forest and travel around the country over the weekends.

Volunteers work Monday – Thursday. Every other Friday is off work, and on the other Fridays the volunteers go on a hike within the reserve with some great views of the forest. On working days breakfast is at 7.30, the morning work shift is from 8.30-12, lunch at 12.30, afternoon work from 2-5, and dinner at 6. The tasks are varied and some are a lot of hard work but this is very rewarding. Tasks include planting trees, clearing paths, working in the tree nursery, weeding the garden, making bread, planting seeds in the garden, harvesting oranges and many more depending on what needs doing at that time of year. We all developed ‘machete muscles’ after a few weeks! If you stay for a reasonable length of time, you can get involved with one of the projects at the reserve e.g. scientific research or community work (there is a small school for 2-5 year olds on the reserve).

Volunteer Story: Gemma - Fundacion Mariposas Amarillas PDF Print E-mail

The following article, except for the introduction, was originally posted on Gemma's blog and has been reposted here upon her request.


My name is Gemma Pitcher and earlier this year I decided to take six months off my usual job of online editor in Sydney, Australia and travel around the world. I came to Santa Marta looking for a community project that I could visit and write about on my blog, www.gemma.travel. The day I spent with Mariposas Amarillas, a small grassroots project that works to provide education for the community's poorest children, was inspiring, exhausting and touching. You can read about it and how to help in my blog entry 'Butterflies in the Barrios':

Butterflies in the barrios

Gemma Fundacion Mariposas Amarillas - local girlIt’s a searing Friday afternoon in Santa Marta, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. In the city’s historic centre, tourists stroll the paved seafront promenade and vendors sell lemonade from the shade of colonial buildings. But in the inappropriately-named Oasis neighbourhood, the only thing that moves in the beating afternoon sun are bony dogs scavenging in piles of rubbish.

The Social Impact of volunteering in India PDF Print E-mail
Written by Gunjan Priya   

The following article was written and submitted by a guest author by the name of Gunjan Priya, who wished to share her thoughts on the social impact of volunteering in India. If you want to write an article expressing your thoughts or opinions, why not register and submit an article?

There are thousands of social service organizations and Non Governmental organizations mushrooming up everyday in India, so much so that India seems to be a pilgrimage of social welfare activities.

Since the disastrous earthquake in Kutchch, pan-Indian philanthropy has received a new path and there have been a continuous growth of volunteers from developed countries.  Young Indians living in different countries are very actively participating in societal activities in India. This is also another way to get popularity, and have their own identity in the world of philanthropy. A continuous growth of foreigners approaching India for volunteering has encouraged the big industrialists and capitalists to rethink their business strategies and urged them to devote a part of their income to charity activities. Companies like Birla Foundation, Wipro supremo’s Ajim Premji Foundation and many other have come forward to do their lot for societal development.


The Effects of Volunteering - The Guardian's Article, and Kaya Responsible Travel's Response PDF Print E-mail
Written by Martin J., Kaya Responsible Travel   

African School  It's a debate as old as volunteering itself: can volunteering do harm rather than good, do volunteers steal jobs from locals, and are volunteers without transferable skills better off staying at home? While we would argue that volunteering is always a force for good and that there are thousands of opportunities available for everyone - regardless of their qualifications, there is little doubt that volunteers do, in some instances, get exploited.

Unfortunately, where there is money to be made there will always be someone willing to take advantage of the situation, regardless of its cost to other.

Just under two weeks ago, on the 14th of November, the Guardian newspaper ran an article on the darker side of volunteering. They claim that the orphans found in some orphanages are not orphans at all, that some of them have been bought simply to be exploited as a means of attracting wealthy tourists and getting them to open their wallets.  This summary statement conveys the general tone of the article quite well: "Unless we have time and transferable skills, we might do better to travel, trade and spend money in developing countries" (Guardian, 14/11/10, link above).

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