One of our core values at people and places is to make sure that the work our volunteers do is of real use to the communities where we work and forms part of an initiative that can and will be continued after the volunteer goes home. We are determined to avoid the kind of volunteering where someone goes into a community with an idea we think is good but which is in fact irrelevant to the way things work in that country, or which has already been done in a slightly different way by an earlier volunteer.
How on earth can we hope to achieve such a challenging aim?
At the heart of our work is the support plan. Each project has a support plan, available for prospective volunteers to view on our website. For example, click here to read the support plan for youth development in Saint Lucia. The support plan contains a short list of aims for the work of volunteers on that project, plus some suggestions as to activities volunteers might do to help achieve them. These aims are NOT thought up by us – they are the needs expressed by people who actually work at the projects and by our local partners who live locally and work on a regular basis with the project so have a much better idea than us of what local needs are. The suggested activities are simply that – suggestions. It would not be possible to write a finite list of actions to be carried out because we cannot know in advance what skills and experiences each volunteer may be able to contribute – however they do give a guideline for volunteers in seeing how they might be able to use their skills to help achieve a need which local people have expressed. Whilst we constantly use the support plan to inform the volunteer matching process, it is formally reviewed every two years, and at that stage projects and local partners add new aims and suggested activities, remove any aims which have been completely fulfilled or are no longer relevant and they and we together detail what has been done by volunteers within those two years towards achieving existing aims. At this stage we also add in, if the project agrees, any recommendations made by volunteers as to how their work could be built on by others who follow them. However the support plans can be changed and added to at any time, and some local partners regularly ask us to add aims or to make other alterations.
The placement outline which each volunteer receives gives details of what their individual placement will comprise and is worked out by our local partner and the project in conjunction with people and places and the volunteer. This details their individual contribution towards achieving one of the aims on the support plan. If a particular volunteer has skills which would enable them to contribute in a way not detailed on the support plan that is of course fine – in fact it is at this stage that local partners sometimes ask us to add new aims. But individual placement outlines do not show the whole picture, which the support plans do. By looking at the support plan for a project where they have worked in the past a volunteer can see how their work fitted into the broader picture and how, in many cases, their work was continued by subsequent volunteers or by local people.
We are proud of way we work, and of the effort we make to ensure that volunteer placements really do meet local needs – and our support plans are a key part of this work.