Voluntair makes volunteering abroad easier

More people are looking to get fulfillment during their vacations

There is an alternative to spending your vacation on the beach drinking umbrella drinks with other tourists. More people are looking for some kind of satisfaction out of their vacation. A growing travel sector is volunteering to help people in other countries.

But for the average person, finding out where to volunteer is difficult, and there are lots of minor details to take care of. Even companies that offer volunteering trips as a perk can use help.

People also think they will lack the needed background, but that is usually not the case. Projects are available for almost anybody.

Many of the big NGOs are highly specialized and require skilled people and a long-term commitment. But there is another group of NGOs and similar organizations that require minimal skills or no skills, and offer opportunities for a shorter time of a few weeks, which fits in with people's vacations.

Czech-based company Voluntair works to find quality projects in other countries and helps match them with clients seeking to volunteer. The projects are not located in the Czech Republic, but in Asia, African and South America, with just a few in Europe. The projects are not in conflict zones. “All of our places are well-organized and completely safe,” he said, adding that they constantly check for security updates.

The concept is new to the Czech Republic but has been common in the US and Western Europe for many years.

“Pretty much anywhere in the world you can volunteer now. The projects are usually run by local organizations,” said Simon Young, on of the co-founders of Voluntair. Projects include improving infrastructure, protecting the ecosystem, protecting wildlife, and medical projects. The projects are backed up by local experts such as local doctors, scientist or biologists. The volunteers give them assistance in the field. The volunteer work is not hard, generally a few hours a day. “It is more on the leisure side of volunteering than the hardcore extreme,” he said.

But the local organizations have no way of finding volunteers in other countries, as advertising would waste their limited resources. 

Young describes Voluntair as a shop window for the projects. “We have gone around the world and handpicked what we think are a lot of the best projects, and we present them to the Czech market,” he said.

This makes it easier for people who have never volunteered before to get involved. “Two or three weeks is a recommended minimum, but it goes up to three or four months,” he said,

This time frame is more appropriate for young professionals. “They don't want to go away for two or three years,” he added.

Most of the projects require knowledge of English or sometimes Spanish. While older Czech people and retirees also are interested in volunteering, language skills are often a barrier. Very rare exceptions are for people who only speak Czech.

Volunteering can also be mixed with normal sightseeing or backpacking, so a person can just add the benefits of volunteering on top of a vacation.

Volunteering, though, often shows you more of the local culture, as the projects are seldom in the touristy areas.”Most of the time you will be living with local communities, eating with families in the communities where you will be helping.… It is a much deeper level of engagement than you will get with a normal vacation,” he said.

Each project has its own specifics. People will pay airfare, and sometimes for food, accommodation and insurance. But there are no international standards. The added value that Voluntair gives its clients is that all these details are taken care of, aside from air tickets. “What we try to do is make this complexity opaque to the volunteer. When they arrive [at the destination] this complexity is masked. We deliver a complete service,” he said. In short, the volunteer just has to show up and practically everything else is taken care of.

Voluntair helps people find suitable projects for their interest and skills, which is crucial. Putting people on the wrong project wastes everyone's time.

Once they have a match of the person and the project, Voluntair takes care of all the logistical things. They provide information on visas and vaccinations before the trip, and on the other end assure that arrangements have been made for food and accommodations, and transportation to the site of the project.

The cost of a volunteering vacation is usually a bit less than a regular vacation. The flight will be the same, but accommodations and food will likely be much less as people will not be staying at four-star hotels and not be going to expensive restaurants.

Many people who work all year long behind a computer are looking for some satisfaction in their life and can find it through volunteering, Young said.

Voluntair also works with corporations who offer volunteering as a perk to their employees. This saves the companies' HR departments a lot of work in arranging the trips. Participating also helps companies to fulfill their corporate social responsibility goals, which consumers see as increasingly important.

Potential employees also increasingly look for jobs that offer interesting perks beyond access to a local gym.

“It is about fulfillment. The staff has to be fulfilled,” Young said, adding that the corporate side of the business was showing a lot of growth.

Some people even look forward to a few weeks of relatively hands-on work after spending all their lime in the office online. “We call it digital detox,” he said.

For more information on Voluntair please visit www.voluntair.cz/en/

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