The Underground Guide to International Volunteering (Review)

by Nora Dunn on 6 April 2010 5 comments

Have you ever wanted to volunteer internationally, but not known where to start? Or have you performed an online search, only to discover that all the “volunteer” opportunities cost thousands of dollars to participate in? There are indeed opportunities to volunteer for less (or even for free)…you just have to find them.

The Underground Guide to International Volunteering will help you discover what sort of volunteer you are, what you might like to do, and where to find the volunteer opportunities that will make you sing.

International Volunteering is an increasingly popular way to spend a vacation. Whether you want a fully organized all-inclusive vacation that includes both volunteering and tourist activities, or if you simply want to show up and lend a helping hand, you can find something that will put your talents to use — and good use.

Kirsty Henderson (the author) is a Canadian who has lived abroad since 2001 and volunteered in one capacity or another since 1998. After amassing volunteer experience in a variety of locations and manners, she has developed an alliance with Hands On Disaster Response and is currently in Haiti to — of course — volunteer in the aftermath of the recent earthquake.

Before getting into the nitty gritty of volunteer opportunities in the ebook, Kirsty first sets the scene by outlining the different types of volunteering, and the sorts of people who thrive on each. Although she has her biases, she also does an excellent job of presenting all the information fairly and thoroughly.

For example, even though fee-based volunteer programs (the kind where you pay up to $1,000/week to volunteer) aren’t Kirsty’s favorite, she does an excellent job of citing why they exist, who they are for, exactly where all those fees go, and why you might want to participate. She even compares various pay-to-volunteer companies and search platforms, enabling readers who are interested in these opportunities to find what they are looking for without being ripped off.

International Volunteering can be a touchy subject for some people. Kirsty addresses some of the criticisms towards international volunteering by answering common questions about whether international volunteers help or hinder communities they visit.

The book is punctuated with profiles of volunteers with various backgrounds and volunteering experience. It’s not all rosy and perfect either, which I appreciate. Volunteering is tough stuff — I know from my own experience in Thailand and Australia.

Just when I get tired of reading rhetoric about volunteering, Kirsty spices it up with a gotta-bookmark-this-page list or comparison of organizations/web sites for researching volunteer opportunities. She has done her research (much of it personally or through word of mouth), and vetted these opportunities for the good ones.

Kirsty includes fabulous tips on how to manage the emotional and physical tolls, and how to make yourself as comfortable as possible in the trenches of volunteering. Interestingly, packing for a volunteer trip is different than packing as you would for a vacation or backpacking trip, and she goes into what sorts of things you want to consider.

And if for nothing else, then the last few pages of this ebook alone are worth the purchase price. This is the section where worldwide free or cheap volunteer organizations are profiled. Kirsty more often than not either knows the founders, knows former volunteers, or has personal experience with these organizations, which adds a personal and testimonial element that instills additional confidence. And Kirsty welcomes new additions to the list by inviting readers to advise her of them, so she can update this e-book to improve the listings and keep them current.

If you’re sitting on the fence about whether or not to get this book, allow me to sweeten the deal: I have no vested or affiliate interest in selling copies of this ebook. This is because Kirsty is already sharing her profits; she is on a mission to raise $10,000 for Hands On Disaster Response, and is using 50% of the profits of this ebook to do so.

So if you’re feeling altruistic, then pick up a copy of The Underground Guide to International Volunteering and not only prepare for your own volunteer mission, but also contribute to a worthy volunteer cause.

The Underground Guide to International Volunteering
Pages: 63
Price: $14

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Average: 2.7 (3 votes)
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Guest's picture
Guest

This is a timely posting. I've just returned from a 2 week volunteer posting with my daughter for which we paid about $1200 each. For that we received a $50. medical insurance policy and a referral to an orphanage/school in Arusha, Tanzania. Not much else.
The promised 24/7 in country support never materialized. The contact person was never available and did nothing for us. But the most shocking part for us was that the orphanage did not receive anything for our room and board and they told us this was the usual case with this organization called IFRE (International Field Research and Expedition) which also operates as Rustic Volunteers, Global Volunteers and Global Crossroads. We were put in the uncomfortable position of taking charity from a charity.
Apparently, they have tried to make different arrangements and receive some payment but again it is nothing but promises. They find that many volunteers bring school supplies, etc. as we did and some become donors. Our accommodation was basic as was the food but it was acceptable. I heard many sad tales of abandoned volunteers, mostly high school and college students. Some locations are just not set up for volunteers and there is a lack of food and no bed, just the bare ground.

I would suggest that anyone seeking to volunteer overseas try to make arrangements directly through a major organization like Unicef, the Red Cross and arrange to pay directly to the charity for their living expenses. Or from a personal recommendation of someone who has used a particular organization. These organizations that charge thousands of dollars to volunteer are profit making enterprises.

Nora Dunn's picture

@Guest - You bring up a great point, and sadly your experience is not entirely uncommon. This ebook does a good job of helping you suss out the good from the bad organizations by suggesting the best questions to ask and criteria to look for. I'm sorry you had a bad experience - hopefully it hasn't soured you from volunteering entirely...

Guest's picture

Well working as volunteer is not bad but when you start your work to help the people then ways automatically open for you.
I really appreciate your efforts which you put in this post. Good work and keep doing good work!

Guest's picture
AD

That book cover is the most imperialistic thing I've ever seen. Really, folks? How much more 'white man's burden' can you get?

Guest's picture
Kirsty

Thanks for the review Nora. You're really touched on everything that is in there, I appreciate it.

@guest I agree that volunteering with organizations that you have had first hand feedback from is the best way to go. Sorry to hear about your experiences. I am wary of pay-to-volunteer organizations. One of their main selling points is that they offer (or claim to offer) in-country support so it is good for you to share these stories and name the culprits.

@AD A white cartoon-like hand reaching up out of a bunch of orange cartoon-like hands is imperialistic? Really? That's just how the image was. Maybe I should have changed the colours to green and purple or something. Oh well.... live and learn.