Guidelines for choosing a volunteering program
There are a few publications on the internet about volunteering and voluntourism, to assist in choosing prospective projects or ethical volunteering programs whether you are on a gap year, volunteering to gain career experience or opting for a voluntourism experience. (Voluntourism defined as “tourists who, for various reasons volunteer in an organized way to undertake holidays that might involve aiding or alleviating the material poverty of some groups in society, the restoration of certain environments or research into aspects of society or environment” – definition in Volunteer Tourism: Experiences that make a difference, by Wearing S.L. (2001). Guidelines in terms of volunteering in wildlife experiences are currently being drawn up.
- The project should comply with international standards of responsible business practices
- If the project involves wildlife it should comply with global animal welfare requirements and minimum standards.
- There should be a code of conduct to ensure responsible behaviour when interacting with wildlife or working in areas close to wildlife habitats.
- If the project is involved in captive-breeding or hand-raising of wildlife, there should be clear and honest information available to the volunteer during the application process about the objectives of the centre and it’s wildlife trade policies.
- The project should be developed with the local community’s needs as the first priority, and not be set-up with the objective of keeping volunteers busy. It should contribute to local on-going efforts (buy-in from the community) and not fizzle out when the volunteer group leaves; the core objective should be to address obvious needs in the community or environment; and it should not jeopardize fundamental needs or rights of the local community, such as entry to houses or land without permission, or volunteers taking employment away from local communities
- It should create opportunity for lasting impact, not quick change, and that change should be sustainable.
- There should be clear, honest communication about the purpose and objectives of the project, the value, and avoid playing on emotion to attract volunteers. Realistic expectations should be set upfront.
- There should be a selection process to ensure volunteers are appropriate to achieve the goals of the program. Background checks and behavior policies should be clearly spelt out.
- There should be channels to address unhappiness or dissatisfaction from volunteers and the facility for volunteers to leave feedback which is shared with prospective volunteers.
- There should be a clear method of measuring the success of the program in terms of its objectives and impact to local community/environment.