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Common Mistakes Made Before, During and After Volunteering

Some musings by Sallie as published by Volunteer Forever -( a great site for info and fundraising for your volunteer trip. and how clever is the graphic!)

This is my take on the most common mistakes made BEFOREDURING and AFTER volunteering.

I want to precurse by stating clearly that I believe the vast majority of people who volunteer are doing so with the best of intentions. Our work at people and places brings us into contact with some pretty blooming marvelous people – some of whom may have made some of these mistakes, some of whom made none – oh shut up and get on with it Sallie…


1. (And most important of all) – not asking questions – just about every organization that recruits volunteers now lists questions volunteers should ask…..

2. Believing just because an organization tells you the questions you should ask that they are going to answer them fully. Beware smoke and mirrors! The answer to “where does the money go?” is easily whitewashed by allocating a whole load of costs to “project development” – yea but what does that mean and where does it happen… in the host country or in a cozy office in the UK or USA? Is the well paid chief exec’s whole salary allocated to project development? (if you need a reminder about the questions you should ask, Click Here)

3. Taking “stuff” – let’s face it, luggage allowances are low and if you are going for a month or so you will need the whole of the allowance for yourself . Please do not be tempted to take things with you for your project unless you have been advised to do so by the project or placement organization. In many instances the “stuff” can be purchased locally for at least the same price if not lower – and you are adding to local wealth – BUT most important of all is it sustainable? – will the project be able to repair it or replace it when you are gone ( so often we hear that perhaps a battery driven appliance would be a good idea if the project has no electricity – mmmmm but who’s paying for the batteries?) and indeed do they have the skills to use it? Is it culturally appropriate? – you see it’s a minefield!

4. Making unrealistic plans – our advice to our volunteers ( who are usually highly skilled professionals) is to “take what you think you may achieve and halve it – then halve it again – and then reduce it by 50%”….and remember, your reality is not necessarily the reality of the project you will be working with. You have skills but just about without exception you do not have MORE skills than local people just DIFFERENT skills from local people – and many of your skills just ain’t relevant skills in that environment. Read the rest of this entry »