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.
Firstly, if you are thinking about an overseas project, you should get involved in some local volunteering first when it is safe for you to do so. 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. This Guardian article is a good place to start, and this report on Al Jazeera's website is worth looking at. Tourism Concern has some relevant material, and Daniela Papi has written an interesting piece for the BBC News Magazine.
For an entertaining bit of satire on international volunteering, watch 'Who wants to be a volunteer' on YouTube.
Support at UCL
It’s a good idea to get in touch with the UCL Volunteering Society as some of their members have an interest in international volunteering so it’s a good way to share information and ideas.
The UCL Study Abroad team have partnerships with three volunteering organisations, Think Pacific, Gotoco and Raleigh International, with opportunities from Europe to the Asia Pacific. There are also bursaries exclusively for short-term mobility placements like international volunteering, so explore their website for more information.
Organisations that offer bursaries or funding:
Please note that Students' Union UCL is unable to help individuals fundraise for fees associated with international volunteering.
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.
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.
For Government safety information and background on countries, please visit their Help for British nationals overseas website.
Again, we stress that you should familiarise yourself with the issues before getting involved in international volunteering.
- 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