Let’s face it, Google is the birthplace of many a grand travel plan but it may not be doing you as many favours as you think. Type ‘volunteer abroad’ into the search bar and your top hits will almost certainly come from companies including GVI (Global Vision International), Frontier and Projects-Abroad, amongst others. The destinations may seem glamorous enough but with most projects starting at around £2000 for just 2 weeks, they are far from reasonably priced. When costs are this steep, you should be suspicious as to whether organisations need you or your money, as those that really need your help don’t usually have the funds to increase their search ranking. The truth is that you might well be considered ‘extra baggage’ and there’s certainly nothing rewarding about that.
If you’re looking for more specific volunteer opportunities such as scientific research or healthcare, it’s worth looking at the volunteer requirements. This can yield a little more information about the standard to which you’ll be expected to work and will stop you paying a lot, to contribute relatively little (unless that’s exactly what you’re looking for!). If you’re required to have a degree or a large amount of experience, chances are the work will be quite demanding. If there are no minimum requirements, things might be more basic than you were expecting based on the job description. Sometimes it’s worth looking for something a little bit more challenging, as this will play to your advantage in the future.
Perhaps it’s obvious, but the best way to find out about small NGOs looking for volunteers is to talk to people. Don’t be immediately put off by the fact that others may have different interests but instead be gregarious and persistent. Pry a little further - find out who and what they know and use it to your advantage. Asking former volunteers to put a good word in for you can open so many doors and there really is no shame in promoting yourself to the best of your ability. If you don’t ask, you won’t get – and someone else will.