Where in Nepal is John Doe?

Where in Nepal is John Doe?

By Will Harper, Director – Projects Abroad USA

Kathmandu? Annapurna? Chitwan? But I am getting ahead of myself …..

The concept of self funded volunteer work, i.e. paying to volunteer, was much more novel when
I was a volunteer in 2003 and when I first started working in the international volunteer field five
years ago. With more people familiar with the concept and the numbers of Americans traveling
abroad to volunteer increasing every year, the debate has now shifted to understanding the cost
difference and value of different programs.

Mimicking this volunteer increase is the significant growth of the international volunteer field
over the last couple of years with organizations of all stripes. This is a good thing. It has pushed
established programs to improve their projects and it has increased the number of Americans
traveling to developing countries to volunteer. I am a firm believer that the more people that
live and work in local communities overseas on sustainable projects the better. But a trend I
have noticed is that, all too often, prospective volunteers think that they are comparing apples
to apples. Many people think subconsciously that different organizations offer the same level
of support, staff back up and focus on developing sustainable projects, and increasingly choose
their organization on price alone.

What triggered this observation was a call several weeks ago from a very worried Mom in
Minnesota. Her son, let’s call him “John”, had left for Nepal a month ago and she had not any
word from him since. Unfortunately John hadn’t told his Mom with whom he was volunteering
or where he would be staying. She on the other hand was not very internet savvy or adept at
email. It was a perfect storm of non-communication! She gave the Projects Abroad office in
New York a call after she found our brochure in John’s room. After she explained the situation
I looked at our internal database system and saw that her son was not volunteering with us as he
never applied. I explained that if he was a volunteer with us we would have his application on
file, would know when he arrived, have periodic updates on him from our staff in Kathmandu
and we would be able to pass on a message. But it appeared that he was working with another
organization. My heart went out to this Mom, especially as someone who similarly left my own
mother out of the loop for a couple of weeks when I was volunteering in Romania. Through
the amazing power of the internet I found out that her son was indeed in Nepal with another
organization that didn’t have a US office or any easy way to get in touch with them other
than through the internet. I called her back and explained what I found and how to make an
international call, which she was very thankful for.

Long story short, there were a lot of things John could have done to assuage his poor Mom. But
it is important to consider that this could have been averted if he went with a comprehensive
organization like those associated with the IVPA or BBC with a proper support system (both project and

volunteer) in place. Local staff would be checking up on him, his Mom could call
a US office to relay her concerns and there would be an emergency number that John and his
Mom could call if there was ever a need. As the field of international volunteering grows, it will
be more and more important that prospective volunteers understand the value and structure of
different organizations.

What are your thoughts?

Travellers are insured to pat a tiger but not to read a book!

Thanks to Sallie Grayson from People and Places for this guest post – has some very valid points that I’m sure people haven’t thought of.

Travellers are insured to pat a tiger but not to read a book!

One in five UK travellers is uninsured, according to a recent ABTA survey (http://www.abta.com/resources/news/view/316).( I don’t have the figures for American travellers – but I suspect that there are some similarities? Anyone out there able to enlighten us?)

This figure is even worse for travellers who volunteer whist they are abroad.

Many volunteers are unaware that the vast majority of travel insurance policies provides no cover for their time “at work” – even when that work is unpaid and may be as simple as reading stories to children! Worse still many volunteer placement organisations seem to be unaware!

Many people don’t know the right questions to ask to verify that they are in fact insured.

Here are some suggestions

1.      Am I insured to work – if so what work?

2.      Am I insured to do building work

3.      What work would negate my cover.

4.      Which are the specific clauses in my policy that refer to the cover provided (or not) whilst I am working

We hope to encourage companies that are selling insurance to volunteers to take responsibility for the quality of the cover they are providing and to be transparent about what is and is not covered. Volunteers need to know that they may well be insured for bungee-jumping but not for tripping over on the sports field when they are playing soccer with the kids.

Organisations offering volunteer travel as part of their trips have a responsibility to at least draw this danger to customers’ attention and better yet, ensure that any insurer they do recommend offers adequate cover. We can be pretty certain that the projects themselves will not be insured.

And a final big warning to those organisations that offer volunteer placements on building projects – to my knowledge no insurer covers work above 2 metres or involving the use of power tools!!!!

Sallie Grayson sallie@travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk

On  Wednesday November 10th, WTM World Responsible Tourism Day, People and Places launched www.volunteerinsure.com and now this insurance is available to all volunteers – whether they travel with people and places or another provider.

Other good insurance partners include: www.worldnomads.com and www.volunteercard.com

Backpacker Companies Unite, Voluntourism Folks Could Be Next?

Randy LeGrant from Geovisions.org just sent me the below memo. Seems like the Backpacker industry is uniting in a really great way, I have to wonder if teh volunteer industry will ever get over the bickering and unite like this. It seems like its about time (and no IVPA and BBC don’t count).
Date: November 2, 2010 7:58:43 AM EDT
Subject: Backpacker Transport Operators Network Formed at WYSTC
Source: WYSTC Blog
Author: Jacqueline

In what could prove to be one of the most significant announcements in backpacking for many years, seven backpacking transport operators have taken the first step in forming a joint global marketing organisation, in a private meeting on the opening day of WYSTC 2010.

The group have agreed, in principle, to drive this initiative forward into a formal organisational structure. They have set themselves a 6-week schedule to create a budget for web development, database development and a business-to-consumer trade show schedule.

During this period the group, to be known as the Backpacker Transport Operators Network, will also clearly define their charter of operation as well as operational guidelines within a code of conduct.

“Ensuring that all members at this table operate to the highest possible standards that reflects positively on each other’s business is a key component to the success of this organisation,” stated Oz Experience Director Greg Zammit.

Most significantly, the founding members of the Backpacker Transport Operators Network will work toward sharing their databases of customers such that joint marketing efforts can be undertaken and a referral program put in place.

“One of the frustrating things about our business is that every year we start with a prospects database of zero – there are no repeat customers. With this fantastic group of companies it means that suddenly my customers become Stray or Oz Experience prospects, in effect you are creating return customers,” said Rob Sheridan Managing Director of Moose Travellers Network.

“From a customer’s point of view there is real value in receiving discounts and product updates from like-minded companies, as well as a knowledge that these organisations are striving together to provide a style of travel that they desire,” summed up Stray Asia and Stray New Zealand Managing Director Neil Geddes.

The founding companies are Stray Asia, Stray New Zealand, Oz Experience, Dragon Bus China, Bamba Bus Latin America, Moose Travellers Network Canada and Falafel Bus Middle East. This group is expected to grow to approximately 10 or 12 organisations over the next few months.

Read more…

Voluntourism a Setback for South Africa’s Orphans

I’ve always been against volunteers working in orphanages, but this is the first article that has come out stating that as well. Is the tide turning on orphanage projects? So often the feel good best seller of many volunteer companies? If you do offer orphanage projects how do you ensure it operates responsibly and doesn’t end up like the below?

Read the full article at: http://www.timeslive.co.za/opinion/editorials/article739070.ece/Voluntourism-a-setback-for-SAs-Aids-orphans

In the Human Sciences Research Council report “Aids Orphan Tourism”, author Linda Richter criticises this kind of new tourism, saying it merely adds another level of abandonment for the children.

“Many of the children they [volunteers] leave behind experience another abandonment to the detriment of their short- and long-term emotional and social development,” Richter writes.

The tourism ministry did not want to comment on the story published on Page 6 of this newspaper, saying it was too new a trend.

But should we view voluntourism as a potential boon for our tourism industry?

The image of volunteer tourism – of well-heeled, well-bred First World folk descending on the suffering children of Africa – is an exceedingly uncomfortable one to summon.

Already there’s been the phenomenon of celebrities dropping in on developing countries to adopt a toddler or two.

Those who might support voluntourism would say that the orphans are at least getting some attention.

But orphans are not abandoned animals that can be cuddled and then dropped when the fun starts wearing thin. To ship in for a few weeks, only to ship out again holds the potential of emotional trauma for the children.

While our tourism industry – in a post-recession world – might need all the help it can get, there are some visitors who might be somewhat problematic and voluntourists fall into that category.

Our children – the many who have been abandoned and orphaned – need help, but it is highly debatable if they need this kind of help.