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How do you go about volunteering overseas- things you need to know

Article by Ceri Wheeldon

Far from planning holidays at sunkissed resorts, sipping cocktails on the beach, there is a growing trend for women over 50 to participate in ‘voluntourism’ , combining travel with volunteering. But how do you go about volunteering, and how do you know what project is right for you?

Is volunteering for you?

I spoke to Kate Stefanko co-founder of www.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk  about what to expect from a volunteer placement.

“If you arrange your volunteer placement through a reputable company, who work with you to define your specific requirements – and limitations – you can specify the level of accommodation acceptable to you, the environment and the type of voluntary work suited to your own particular skills.”

What are the types of skills which would lead to a successful volunteer placement?

“A reputable voluntary placement organisation will look to place a volunteer in a project where they can add value and enable a skills transfer, leaving the project better skilled than on their arrival. There is a perception that volunteer placements are available for only nursing and teaching  professionals. This is not the case at all.  Many other skills are required. By the time a woman reaches her 50s, she will have gained skills in managing a home, budgeting and catering for family events. In areas looking to develop facilities for tourism, these are skills which need to be taught to local residents, so they can offer tourist accommodation and facilities of a suitable standard. We had one volunteer who had a passion for cycling- we just happened to have an opportunity with a town looking to set up a bicycle project – it was a win win situation.

How much should a volunteer placement cost?

This can vary enormously, but you should be looking to pay approximately $1500 a month plus travel to the volunteer assignment.

How long is a typical volunteer assignment?

Typical assignments are 4-8 weeks. But you can opt for 3, 6 or 9 months.

What questions should you ask?

  • How did the particular project come about? Who instigated it?
  • Ask how the money you are paying is being spent. How much is staying in the local project?
  • What is their philosophy re skills transfer?
  • What kind of support will I have?
  • Who can you talk to who has already volunteered on the project?
  • Is there adequate insurance cover?

Do most volunteers travel alone or with friends?

Most volunteers go alone, but some volunteer as couples. Some of the most rewarding are when mothers and daughters volunteer together/mothers and sons volunteer together. It adds an extra dimension and families get to see each other in another light.

What tips would you give somebody going on a volunteer placement?

  • Always take pictures of your home and family- family applies to everyone and this can be a real ice breaker.
  • Take language sheets with you with basic phrases
  • Make sure you are aware of the local code of conduct.
  • Make sure you research thoroughly beforehand.

What do the volunteers gain from the experience?

Most volunteers come away with an understanding of how life works for other people. Living within a  community you learn a lot about lives. They find the experience very meaningful and learn a lot about themselves too.

You can find more information about volunteer placements at www.travel-peopleandplaces.co.uk


Ceri Wheeldon

Ceri is Founder and Editor of Fabafterfifty.co.uk She is a frequent speaker at events and in the media on topics related to women over 50 , including style and living agelessly. With 20+ years experience as a headhunter Ceri also now helps support those looking to extend their working lives.

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  1. sallie - people and places

    February 21, 2012

    Thanks so much for this – firstly for getting Kate to do an interview – normally she refuses! But most important for highlighting the opportunities for women over 50 to volunteer – for us women of a certain age have important skills and experience and we would encourage them to consider volunteer travel – but it needs to be right for them and the communities – so please don’t hold back – ask questions do your research – make sure you get the best match possible!

    • Ceri Wheeldon

      February 21, 2012

      Sallie, it was great to be able to ask the questions on behalf many women who may be thinking of volunteering. At least they now know where to go to get the answers. I’d love to hear back from anyone who is inspired to volinteer for a project.

  2. Jo Carroll

    February 22, 2012

    This is really useful advice – concise information for anyone with a yen to go volunteering. And the ‘respect the culture’ advice is essential for everyone, even if going on holiday.

    • liz

      October 16, 2012

      this would be a major deal for me dying to go, any tips!!!

  3. Rebecca

    March 16, 2012

    And check out the Peace Corps. They have become very user friendly for the mature. I worked in Africa with 3 over sixty beautiful women who had just been assigned. They were having a ball!

    • liz

      October 16, 2012

      which country as first time volunteer would you suggest

  4. noreen faruga

    March 22, 2012

    i am interested in working overseas. i am 54 years old but dont know much about this and have not done this before so i would have to look carefully at what country to try. I would go for the short term to start with.

    • liz

      October 16, 2012

      me too any advice

  5. Stephanie Harvey

    March 20, 2013

    I really want to contribute to something, and be part of a new culture and community if only for a short while.

  6. supriya roy

    October 23, 2013

    Am a woman above fifty with a postgraduate degree from India, have travelled in 13 countries, want to do volunteer tourism in Europe

  7. Rachel Harris

    March 14, 2014

    Hi there, I wanted to let you all know about my organisation, Elephant Human Relations Aid in Namibia. We aim to conserve a declining population of desert elephants by helping local people live without conflict with their large neighbours. We have a volunteer project and we have over 50 year olds on every project. We have been running for 10 years and won ‘Best Volunteering Organisation’ at Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards. We just had three 70 year olds here on the last trip, their impressions are written in our blog: http://www.desertelephant.org/volunteering-in-namibia-africa/elephant-conservation-volunteer-blog/blog.html
    Namibia is a great country, safe, organised and incredibly beautiful. Please email me if you would like to know more!!

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