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Students’ Union UCL cannot recommend any particular international volunteering opportunities, as we are unable to verify the quality of the placements offered or the soundness of the management.

However, we can provide some basic advice and links to websites you may find useful. We also send out an occasional bulletin about international volunteering, and can provide a list of international volunteering recruiters - subscribe here.

Thinking about the issues

Firstly, if you are thinking about an overseas project, you should get involved in some local volunteering first. Kate Mason, Relationships Manager at SLV.Global told us: “We really value individuals who have previously volunteered in their local community before taking part in one of our Mental Health Placements abroad. Our aim is to help communities in need of extra support within the mental health sectors of Sri Lanka and Bali and volunteering locally provides volunteers with the skills we look for when recruiting our teams. Additionally, we believe that volunteering locally is a great way to enhance your employability and is extremely beneficial to the local communities you work in.”

You should also acquaint yourself with some of the debates about gap year volunteering. The Ethical Volunteering webpages are a good place to start. There’s also a report on Al Jazeera’s website  about ‘voluntourism’ that’s worth looking at. Tourism Concern also has some relevant material. David Coles from LSE’s Volunteer Centre has written an informative blog here. Daniela Papi has written an interesting piece for the BBC News Magazine. There have been a few articles in The Guardian, and there’s been an article in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism about the pricing and marketing of voluntourism. For an insight into some of the issues to be aware of when considering animal conservation projects, have a look at the Campaign Against Canned Hunting.

We particularly discourage you from orphanage volunteering - look at the Better Volunteering Better Care webpages to find out why, and read what JK Rowling has to say about orphanage volunteering.

For an entertaining bit of satire on international volunteeriing, watch ‘Who wants to be a volunteer’ on YouTube.

Support at UCL

It’s a good idea to get in touch with UCL Union’s student-run Volunteering Society as some of their members have an interest in international volunteering so it’s a good way to share information and ideas. Find out more here.

UCL Careers also have a website for international work opportunities.

UCL also has a Travel Grant scheme. Small grants are available to individuals who wish to undertake challenging independent travel. Competition for the grants is strong, and there is only one applications round a year, but it is an option worth exploring, particularly if such an opportunity would otherwise be out of reach. Click here for more information and details of how to apply.

Other Funding

Organisations that offer bursaries or funding:

Before you commit to anything:

Make sure that you know exactly what you are looking for as ‘volunteering’ means many things in this sector. It can range from in-depth work linked to sustainability and development all the way to adventure travel with a stop to paint a school along the way (which may occur without the local people having been consulted as to whether they wanted it!)

Ask the charity or company you’re going with what your money pays for before making a choice - does it pay for insurance, visas, training, support in the host country, medicines, etc.? And where does the ‘rest’ go? Are they making a profit, or simply passing all their relevant costs onto you? It’s not always a case of ‘you get what you pay for’.

Almost all organisations will charge a fee. If the organisation had the resources to cover your costs, the money could be better used hiring an inexpensive local worker who already knows the language and culture.

Please note that Students’ Union UCL is unable to help individuals fundraise for fees associated with international volunteering.

Ask questions of the organisation like - how well do you know the host project? Who runs it, how long have they been operating, how many people do they work with, what’s the name of the guy who works at the front desk, etc. Building partnerships is the first step to good overseas volunteering and if they can’t answer that then they don’t know enough.

If you are raising money for your international volunteering, ask yourself - would this money be better spent by the community itself? International volunteering organisations will typically ask you for several thousand pounds - money which a development NGO could put to good use with one of their community partners.

International Volunteering Organisations

We can provide you with a list of international volunteering organisations, although we stress that we do not endorse any of them. To request the list, complete this form.

Further information

For Government safety information and background on countries, please visit their Help for British nationals overseas website.

For more info on ethical tourism, visit Tourism Concern.

More general guidance on international volunteering please read the article on NCVO’s Know How Non Profit website.

Again, we stress that you should familiarise yourself with the issues before getting involved in international volunteering.

Books

  • How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas, Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega, Zahara Heckscher
  • The Global Citizen, Elizabeth Kruempelmann
  • The International Directory of Voluntary Work, Victoria Pybus
  • Volunteer Vacations, Bill McMillon, Doug Cutchins, and Anne Geissinger
  • World Volunteers, Fabio Ausenda and Erin McCloskey