How To Choose An Ethical Project For Your Gap Year

Volunteering for a worthy cause is a classic gap year occupation and for good reason.

Whether you’re looking to expand your horizons, travel the globe, help a needy community or show future employers that you’re serious about the world and your place in it,  volunteering has always been one of the most rewarding ways to gain the experience you need alongside making a genuine difference in people’s lives. However, it’s not always that simple. Before you pack your bags and set off for distant climes, it’s important to do your research. Not all volunteer opportunities are created equal and it’s possible that you might end up doing more harm than good. Here are a few pointers on the kind of volunteer job to look for when you’re deciding which positions to go for.

It's important to do your research By Helga Weber

It’s important to do your research – photo by y Helga Weber

Protect yourself & others by checking the organisation screens prospective volunteers

Volunteer roles are not ‘one size fits all’ and like any job there will be those that you’ll be suited for and those that you won’t. Any charitable organisation that is seeking volunteers should screen and interview prospective candidates so that you both know exactly the kind of work you’ll be doing and whether or not the experience will be right for you. It’s a long way to go to discover you’ve made a terrible mistake.

Ask for a breakdown of the organisation’s financial structure

Once you begin researching volunteering abroad you’ll note how expensive it gets. More often than not, organisations will ask you to pay your own way. This is a fairly reasonable desire as money is needed to provide materials for the project and sustain future work after you’ve left. However, it’s important that you can see clearly where this money is being spent and how. A mark of a reputable organisation is its transparency when it comes to financial dealings. You want to make that the money you’re spending is being used to create a sustainable infrastructure that will exist long after you’ve left.

Make sure that the volunteer work is integrated into the community in a responsible way

Most volunteers approach their job with a real sense of wanting to do good in the world. However, it is not always that simple and it is important to find volunteering work that recognises and supports the work of the community you’ll be working with. There are plenty of stories of passionate but misguided volunteers being brought in to a developing community and actually displacing the jobs of the people they’re trying to help. This is particularly true of construction work. So be mindful – during your interview, ask how your skills will be put to use and how exactly the organisation collaborates with and supports the skills of your hosts. Who are the local partners? How is work arranged? Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible.

Enquire about training

Volunteering positions allow you a chance to experience a workload and a set of responsibilities that you simply would not encounter at this stage in your life and career. This is exciting and challenging but it is important that you are given the necessary tools to cope with whatever lies ahead. To that end, make sure that you ask about and pursue any training opportunities presented to you, particularly when it comes to understanding a culture that is not your own. In order to do your best work, it’s important to understand what ‘best work’ actually means. Kindness is laudable but it must be tempered with context, wisdom and an open mind.

Sam Wright is a writer and editor based in Norwich, UK.

Photo by andrew and hobbes

Author: SmartStudent

SmartStudent is an educational portal that provides information & advice to aspiring students. regarding applying to university, choosing a course, what to take to university, finding student accommodation and much more.

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