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Why pay to volunteer abroad?

Article by Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo

Posted: July 1, 2022

One of the main questions you might ask yourself before choosing a volunteering project is “Why do I have to pay to volunteer abroad?” Programs can be expensive and it’s natural to wonder where your money is going.

Your hard work and passion are valuable, but unfortunately, motivation alone doesn’t keep international development projects alive. As a volunteer, your fees can have just as great an impact as your actions. 

By contributing to a project as a paying volunteer, you’re supporting local communities and organisations, and ensuring that programs are effective and beneficial in the long run. You’re also investing in your own training and development, so you can continue making an impact long after you’ve finished your program. 

Here are the main reasons why it’s ethically responsible to pay to volunteer abroad. 


1) You’re paying for your food and accommodation



When international participants arrive on a project, they need meals and accommodation. This is the primary reason why it’s not feasible to volunteer abroad without paying. Program fees cover the cost of these expenses, which avoid putting financial pressure on local organisations with already limited resources. 

GVI’s program fees cover housing and food. Covering the cost of your own basic expenses means you can make a greater contribution to the community partners you’ll be working with. 


2) You’ll receive comprehensive training



To be effective in creating a sustainable impact, participants need to be trained in the right skills. If participants aren’t given adequate training, project outcomes could be harmful rather than helpful. 

Many sustainable development organisations will tell you that the more skills you have, the more valuable you can be on the ground. If you don’t have all the necessary skills when you arrive, you’ll need to go through comprehensive training to prepare you for your project. Essentially, you need to know what you’re doing to make an impact. 

The pre-program and on-site training we provide relates to one of our commitments, which is to increase the employability of all participants. To achieve this, we offer courses certified by trusted local organisations such as government educational boards, as well as international institutions such as PADI. 

When you join a GVI program, you’ll also have the option to join an online pre-program course. Endorsed by the University of Richmond, when you complete the course you’ll receive a certificate that can be used on your resume, LinkedIn, job applications and university applications.

These opportunities mean that when you pay to volunteer with us, you’re investing in your future by boosting your employability and skills.  


3) You’ll help fund specialised staff



Effective development projects require knowledgeable staff. Part of your volunteer fee goes towards employing a team who makes sure the programs are having the most beneficial impact possible. Paying specialised and highly-skilled staff allows us to understand whether or not we are providing a real service to local organisations.

For example, sustainable development starts with asking local communities what their needs are and working in collaboration with local organisations. Staff who are trained in intercultural competence, coordinating focus groups and collating data can help to identify these needs and structure programs around them. 

Specialised staff are also required to carry out local partner vetting processes. These audits ensure our partners are following ethical practices, such as health and safety, operational best practices, and align with our ethical standards. 

If the organisation does not meet these standards, we provide recommendations and start working with them on improvements. Building in-country capacity in this way is a complex task, which requires that we train, pay and retain specialised staff, but it is the only way to ensure long-term, positive social change. 

Finally, highly specialised staff are needed to track our progress and investigate the impact of our work. In other words, we set finite, realistic objectives within a limited time frame, then work toward achieving them and measure our progress as we go. This again requires the input of qualified staff, skilled in social science data and analysis.

Our staff are qualified in specific areas – such as conservation, diving, data collection etc. Their skills and knowledge can then be passed on to volunteers and applied to ensure the project’s long-term success.

4) You’ll contribute to project consistency



Successful sustainable development projects require consistent effort and local knowledge. To ethically ensure consistency on the ground, we don’t rely on volunteers alone to ensure the success of a project. 

Volunteer numbers fluctuate throughout the year. When volunteers aren’t available, our local staff make sure all the roles on the project are filled – ensuring  our partners have continued support. 


5) You’ll have access to 360-degree support



Support is one of the key differences between paid and free volunteer programs. Round the clock support is one of the services included in our program fees. This level of assistance again requires specialised staff in areas as diverse as software development, client relations, event management, and hospitality services. 

At GVI, we provide a fully supported 360-degree journey for anyone joining our programs – from the moment you submit an application and prepare your documents, up until you travel to the program and work on the project. We even provide support when you return home, and beyond. 

6) You’ll contribute to sustainable locally-led projects


Expanding skills and creating job opportunities for local communities is an essential aspect of sustainable development. On all GVI projects we take a locally-led approach, where we collaborate with local governments and private organisations to take into account the specific needs of the communities we’re working in. For example, the community in Oxapampa, Peru has highlighted improved English language skills as an area they would benefit from. Based on this feedback one of our community volunteer programs in Peru focuses on assisting children with learning English.


Paying to volunteer: asking the right questions


Just because you’re paying to volunteer, doesn’t mean your money is being used in the right way. Instead of asking “why do you have to pay to volunteer”, ask “how is the money from my volunteer fee being used”. 

When paying fees, it’s always wise to check with the volunteering organisation how exactly that money is being spent. You want to make sure your fees are having a positive, not detrimental, impact on the local environment or community. 

For example, some orphanage volunteering projects charge fees, but the money is used solely for profit, while the children are exploited for the sake of attracting paying volunteers. 

Asking where your fees are going is a valid and important question. Any reputable organisation will be able to provide a breakdown of how volunteer funds are used. 

Once you have selected an ethical volunteer program provider, you can also ask for advice on fundraising, or the possibility of a scholarship to help you cover the costs of your trip. 

Read more about where your money goes when you choose to volunteer with GVI, or dive right in and start browsing our range of international volunteer projects today.

We understand that you may have questions about how COVID-19 will affect your travel plans. Visit our FAQs page which explains our latest safety protocols in response to COVID-19. 

Disclaimer: Some of the images in this article were taken pre-COVID-19.

By Zaytoen Domingo

Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.
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