Volunteer Abroad Complaints
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What are the major complaints/Problems associated with volunteer abroad?
Unfortunately, too many volunteers join volunteer abroad projects somewhat naively. They expect a life changing experience where they'll make new friends, have a great time and change the world at the same time. And rightly, most volunteers expect that their volunteer abroad organizations will fully support them and do everything within their power to make sure their experience is perfect.
However, a quick look at volunteer abroad reviews online will show you that almost 5% of volunteers are unhappy or dissatisfied with their experience. The reasons for this are varied. Some complaints are about the organisation itself, the projects, the host families the local support or most worryingly, how the program fee funds are being allocated. As was mentioned in an earlier article, these negative reviews are unlikely to be found on the volunteer abroad organisation's own website but can be found on volunteer abroad information and advice websites.
When you choose to volunteer abroad, you are not only investing your time and money but you are also expecting to make a difference to a community that needs help. Therefore, it is reasonable to have certain expectations with regards to your experience and the work being done by the organisation.
This article will further elaborate on the most common complaints made by volunteers about their programs and their program providers. We'll explore the various reasons these problems can arise and give you some tips on how to resolve them.
The volunteer experience was very eye-opening and I felt very much needed at the site. I would greatly recommend it.
The strong ties we built and the rewarding experiences that we made here were really very priceless.
A lifetime experience, which has opened my eyes to so much, and impassioned me to pursue future volunteer trips.
Overall a great experience! I can't think of any reason why I shouldn't recommend the program to others!
Problems related to volunteer abroad organizations and the program fee
In a previous article, we gave you some tips on how to choose the right volunteer abroad organisation for you. The best way to avoid encountering problems when volunteering abroad is to do extensive research prior to making your application and, most importantly, prior to making any payment. You don't want to be left out of pocket or even worse, stuck abroad having a miserable time.
The organizations that regularly make top 10 lists do so for good reasons. They have been in the industry for many years and have amassed a wealth of experience and know how to run enjoyable, successful volunteer abroad programs. The process runs smoothly from the application to proper orientation once the volunteer is in their location. These organizations have built up strong reputations and should be of little concern to potential volunteers. The types of volunteer abroad organizations that volunteers should be, at the very least, wary of are the smaller, newer organizations. These organizations lack experience and volunteers tempted by the lower fees soon realise that paying less often means receiving an inferior service.
The following are some of the major complaints volunteers have, and solutions we recommend
1. “I am having a communication problem”
Many volunteers find that their phone-calls, emails and other attempts at communication are not being responded to promptly or often not at all. This can be particularly stressful in the planning stages of a volunteer program when volunteers will want information about their arrival, their host family (15), airport pick-ups etc. It is even more worrying when the volunteer is in a foreign country, living in a situation that is completely new, surrounded by people they don't know. When working with a professionally-run volunteer abroad organisation, prompt and helpful communication is the key to easing the transition for volunteers and making sure their stay is both enjoyable and productive.
How to solve it?
The best way to avoid this issue is to get a feel for the organisation’s communication before you even apply. Any reputable organisation will have an easy way to contact them with questions, queries. Send the organisation a few emails and if you don't receive prompt, helpful responses, simply do not apply, If they cannot answer a few basic questions beforehand, it is probable they will be unable to help you urgently during your project.
2. Fee or Money Issues “ I’m paying too much!”
Fees for volunteer abroad programs can often seem dauntingly high (10). This being said, overcharging does take place and many volunteers notice cheaper fees being advertised after they have already paid. Worse still are those who speak to volunteers on their program who are seemingly paying a lot less for the same program and even host family.
How to solve it?
Once you've paid your fees, there is obviously not a great deal you can about it. If you realise you have been charged more than the going rate, the best advice is honestly to just get on with it. At the end of the day, you were willing to pay that price and you should do your best to enjoy your volunteer abroad experience. However if you do not feel you are getting the service you were promised, then you are well within you rights to complain. Once again, prevention is the only real solution here. Before you pay anything, compare prices! Fees for volunteer abroad programs can vary from the hundreds to the thousands. When comparing prices, be sure to read reviews and check what is included. There's no point saving a hundred dollars on the fee if you will be out of pocket down the line with unexpected costs, or if your are not getting the level of service you need to make your experience a good one.
Financial allocation problem – where is my money going?
Often, volunteers arrive at their destination and begin working and become suspicious about how their fees are being allocated. Perhaps they find that their host family is not being compensated particularly well or that the project seems to be running on a very tight budget, despite having a large number of fee-paying volunteers. Those that do confront their organisation are often given vague responses about administration costs, equipment and overheads.
How to solve this problem?
If making sure your money is going towards helping and not just profits for the organisation is important to you, then we strongly recommend carrying our your research. There is nothing wrong with emailing the volunteer abroad organisation prior to paying the fee to find out how they allocate your fee to the project, the host family, transportation, food for volunteers etc. Any trustworthy volunteer organisation will be more than happy to explain where your money goes and many organizations specifically list this information on their website. Even if this is the case, feel free to confirm this information. This is also a good opportunity to check on the organisation's communication. If you do not feel completely comfortable with the responses you receive, don't work with this organisation.
4. Problems related to program or project.
This project is not what I expected, or this project is not at all like it was advertised online.
Taking a quick look at online reviews for volunteer abroad programs, you will find that a number of volunteers feel that their project was not what they were led to believe it would be. Understandably, this leaves many feeling disappointed and cheated.
This can happen for any number of reasons. One is that the volunteer abroad organisation which does the advertising and takes care of the application process is not who actually runs the project. Instead most projects are run by local organizations who essentially outsource the recruitment of the volunteers to large organizations. Whilst there is usually an in country coordinator who liaises between the two sides they do not have any actual control over the running of the project. What tends to happen in these cases is that the website of the company's website focuses on the aspects of projects that are fairly uniform, especially in the more common types of volunteer project such as orphanages and teaching. In these situations, the organisation may omit certain specific details about each individual project.
To be more specific, let's say you are interested in working in an orphanage in India. You find an organisation that says it offers projects in orphanages in India. What you may realise is that the projects offered by one organisation could actually be run by 12 different local organizations across the country. In cases like this, the pages on the website will only focus on the aspects of the projects that are the same, giving a more generic picture of an orphanage project in India. It will fail to highlight exact details of each individual project, which may vary greatly in terms of accommodation options, workload and expected duties.
So how do you avoid this problem?
In order to avoid finding yourself immersed in a project and environment that is not necessarily what you expected/think you signed up for, it is best to get in touch with the volunteer organisation beforehand in order to get more details about the project. Here is the kind of information you should be looking for.
- Name, location and website of the project
- tentative volunteer schedule
- contact and background information for supervisors and local staff
- Specific volunteer responsibilities and duties
- Number of hours of work per week/amount of free time
- Volunteer rules, regulations, dress code etc.
- accommodation arrangements
5. Projects have too many volunteers – “I am not getting enough volunteer work.
Frequently, volunteers arrive at their location to find that they simply do not have much work to do. This can often happen during high season when organizations have high numbers of applications and many organizations try to put the maximum number of volunteers on each project, without taking into account the actual workload. Volunteers are taking their time to travel across the world, expecting to make a difference and instead find themselves sat around waiting for instructions or carrying tasks invented just to keep them busy.
How to solve it
Before you travel, talk to your provider to ensure there will be enough work for you and to get a general idea of what to expect. In some cases you may even be able to combine two projects in order to get the most meaningful and productive experience. You will need to talk to your provider and the local staff members to see how you can make the most of your volunteering experience.
Problems related to host families
We don't get on” “There are many rules here”
Host families are very rarely a source of complaints from volunteers. Most really feel like a part of the family and many actually claim that the host family was the best part of the entire experience. However, occasionally problems can arise, often due to difficulty in communication and cultural differences. To help ease any problems like this, try and find out the following information about your host family before you go:
- How many members are there in the family?
- How old are the family members Do grandparents/extended family live in the house too?
- What is the religion of the family? Do they expect guests to observe any holidays or religious practices?
- Will you have your own room?
- Which meals are included? When are they served?
- Can you invite friends to the home? Does the gender of the friend matter?
- What rules do they expect the volunteer to observe?
- Do they speak English? Are they happy to practice the local language with the volunteer?
- Can I get references/contact details of previous volunteers who lived with the same family?
If there are any aspects of the living situation with the host family that you are unsure about, ask if there is the possibility of changing the family before you go. Also find out whether you can be moved once you are already there.
Here are some additional complaints we’ve collected from online reviews:
- We went to a Healthcare Program in Cusco (Peru) where we were supposed to take part in medical activities. We did nothing we were promised, we didn't get any help from the organization, bad experience with the organization and our project made us see everything negative.
- Our country coordinator were really distanced and not interested. They never asked how we were, how we felt, how our day was.
- So instead of making it easier the organization made the beginning harder and it made us really angry and we felt disappointed that there was no way to build a relationship.
Problems like these are rare and are unfortunately difficult to resolve once they have occurred. If you find yourself facing problems like this once you are already on your project, the best thing you can do is make your feelings very clear, in person if it is possible and also by email. Make it clear that if they do nothing to resolve the issues, you plan on leaving them negative reviews online. Volunteer abroad organizations rely on their reputation to attract new volunteers so any reputable organisation will want to avoid negative publicity online.
However, as we have shown in this article, the most common volunteer abroad complaints can be avoided beforehand by carrying out your own research. Never just apply to the first organisation you find with a project you like. Look around to compare prices, value for money and read reviews on the different organizations.
We’ve also found these online articles to help further guide you on how to avoid problems with your volunteer organization and project.