Volunteer and intern programmes abroad can be expensive so this is a very good and reasonable question. Your time, hard work and passion are valuable, so it is important to know where your money is going!
In most cases a volunteer/intern project develops around a cause/need that is important yet normal business models are inadequate to provide economic sustainability or achieve the desired goals of the project. Unfortunately, motivation alone doesn’t keep such projects afloat. As a volunteer/intern, your fees have as great an impact as your actions in sustaining the cause or addressing the need.
However, at the end of the day, to be sustainable a successful volunteer/intern project needs to meet everyone’s needs resulting in a win win for both the project and the volunteer/intern. Failure, on either side, will end up in an unsustainable project.
By supporting a project as a paying volunteer/intern, you are ensuring that the programme is effective and beneficial in the long term. You are supporting a cause that is important to you through which you are in turn investing in your own training, experience, career and personal development. Ultimately your support will continue to benefit the cause (and the world) and yourself long after you have returned home.
Here are the main reasons why it is ethically responsible to pay to volunteer/intern abroad.
- Not to be a drain on the resources of the project
This is perhaps the primary reason why it is not feasible to volunteer/intern abroad without paying. When participants arrive on a project, they have basic needs such as accommodation, meals and supervision etc. Programme fees cover these expenses, which avoid putting financial pressure on local organisations with already limited resources. Covering the cost of your own basic expenses means you can make a greater contribution to the partners you will be working with.
- You will receive essential training
To be effective in creating a sustainable impact, participants need to be trained in the necessary skills. In the case of many internships, the training you receive is one of the goals and outcomes of the project’s success. If participants are not trained, the project outcomes could suffer rather than be benefited. Essentially, to make an impact you need to know what you’re doing.
- Your fees help fund specialised staff
Effective projects require knowledgeable and experienced staff. Part of your fee goes towards employing a team who are able to deliver the greatest beneficial impact as possible. Specialised and skilled staff allow the project to ensure it is providing a real service through tracking progress and monitoring the impact of our work.
- Contributing to project consistency
Successful projects require consistent effort and local knowledge. To ensure consistency, projects cannot rely on volunteers/interns alone. Volunteer/intern numbers fluctuate throughout the year and local staff make sure that the project work continues.
- Volunteers/interns require 24/7/365 support
Round the clock support is typically one of the services included in programme fees and is the key differences between paid and free volunteer/intern programmes. This level of assistance requires specialised behind the scenes staff in addition to those directly associated with the project.
- Ensuring programmes develop
Constant examination of projects to determine what can be done better is vital and sometimes requires external specialist input to audit outcomes, best practice as well as assisting where challenges are being experienced and how they can be overcome for the project to move forward. This learning process means programmes are constantly improved and helps to ensure the best outcomes for local partners and international volunteers/interns.
Other questions you should be asking are:
- “How is the money from my fees being used?”
- “Are my fees having a positive, not detrimental, impact on the local environment or community?”
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