Ensuring a safe volunteer exchange: a guide for volunteers and hosts.
Volunteering can be an enriching experience. Opening doors to new cultures, skills, and friendships… However, just like any other venture into unfamiliar territory, it requires careful planning and consideration. Safety should never be compromised, and experiences should be mutually beneficial for both volunteers and hosts.
Here are some steps you can take to ensure a harmonious and memorable volunteer experience for everyone involved.
1. Do thorough background checks
Go beyond surface-level profiles. Look deeper than just their basic info. Hosts often share their website, Facebook, Instagram, and maybe even YouTube. Really look into these to see if they’re right for you. If they don’t have a website or social media, go to point number 3.
If you are a host, follow a similar process.
Request resumes, pictures, and social media profiles from volunteers. Ask them about their motivations for choosing your volunteer project. This will help you determine if they are a suitable match for your place.
2. Don’t judge people from the way they speak a foreign language
Volunteers and hosts are from all over.
Don’t judge someone if they aren’t fluent. Pay attention to how they respond and how they treat you, like if they’re polite and friendly.
Check if you get along and feel good about working together. Similarly, avoid making assumptions about individuals based on their country of origin, culture, or religion. Embrace cultural diversity and focus on building positive connections through open-mindedness and understanding.
3. Meet them online before you get there
Always start with a video chat.
It allows you to get a better sense of the host compared to just reading about them.
Feel free to ask any questions you have. Inquire about:
- the house rules,
- the specific tasks you’ll be responsible for,
- the expected duration of work,
- the things you might be able to do in your free time,
and whether there will be other volunteers alongside you.
Some volunteers enjoy the company of other volunteers, while others might prefer quieter environments.
Consider asking the host to show you the accommodations where you’ll sleep and eat, particularly if it is crucial for you to have a clean and cosy place to rest.
However, keep in mind that in places like farms, maintaining perfect tidiness and cleanliness might not always be feasible!
It’s also important to discuss safety in the area and emergency protocols.
Understanding how to stay safe and what steps to take in case of emergencies is crucial for a smooth and safe volunteer exchange.
– If you’re signing up for farm or animal sanctuary volunteering, hosts should kindly inform volunteers about the wild adventures of dealing with animals that may have a knack for displaying aggressive behaviours. Brace yourself for a potential game of “Dodge the Chicken” or a thrilling encounter with the mischievous “Goatzilla.” Remember, it’s not just a walk in the park; it’s an action-packed experience! 😂😅
4. Look beyond appearances
A messy place or an unfinished home doesn’t always mean a bad experience awaits.
Hosts often need help to tidy up or renovate their farm or house.
Without the help of friends or volunteers, the property might remain incomplete. Just because a home is untidy doesn’t mean the people are unkind. Many volunteers have ended up in cluttered places but have still had a positive experience.
Often, it’s not about how a place looks, but the character and warmth of the people there.
Make sure the people you are helping, or hosting, are genuinely interested in cultural exchange.
They should be sociable, friendly, and reasonable. If you are a volunteer, ask the hosts if they were once volunteers; if dealing with volunteers, inquire about their work expectations and what they hope to gain from the volunteering experience you offer.
5. Inform someone of your plans
Always let someone you trust know your whereabouts.
Share details about where you’ll be, who you’ll be with, and the duration of your stay. It’s also a good idea to schedule regular check-ins, be it daily or weekly, with a loved one. This keeps you connected and adds an extra layer of safety to your journey.
6. Meet in public first
If you’re unsure or want an extra layer of safety, meet your host in a public spot first. It could be a busy square, airport, or train station. This gives you a chance to gauge the situation and ensures you’re in a safe, public environment for your first encounter.
7. Trust your gut
Your intuition is your best friend. Trust your instincts.
If something doesn’t feel right, pay attention to that feeling. Your gut instincts are often your best guide. Prioritize your safety above everything else and take necessary precautions if you have any concerns.
8. Have a backup plan
When travelling or staying with someone, it’s a good thing to have a backup plan in case of unexpected circumstances. Here are two important considerations:
- Know the Area: Take some time to familiarize yourself with the local area. Identify safe zones, public spaces, and landmarks that can help you navigate and feel more secure in your surroundings.
- Emergency Stay: It’s always a good idea to have alternative accommodation options in mind.
Research nearby hostels, hotels, or other lodging options that you can rely on if needed. This ensures that you have a backup plan in case your original arrangements don’t work out as anticipated.
9. Learn local emergency protocols
In addition to having a backup plan, be prepared for general emergencies. Here are a few steps to consider:
- Store important numbers: save local emergency contact numbers in your phone, such as those for the police, ambulance, and fire department. This ensures quick access to help when needed. If travelling abroad, also keep the contact information for your country’s embassy or consulate.
- Identify safe locations: Take the time to identify the nearest safe places in the area you’re staying. Locate the closest police station, hospital, and embassy (if applicable). Being aware of these locations can be valuable in times of need.
By familiarizing yourself with local emergency procedures and having relevant contact information readily available, you can enhance your safety and well-being during your travels.
10. Secure your belongings
Even in a safe environment, make sure to keep your passport, money, and valuable items secure. Consider using a portable safe or lock to protect your belongings.
11. Respect boundaries but set your own
Respecting your host’s boundaries is crucial, but it’s also important to establish your own.
Clear communication plays a key role in preventing misunderstandings.
Imagine you’re staying with a host who has established house rules, including a designated quiet time in the evenings. It’s important to honour their boundaries by following those rules and being considerate of their preferences. If you have any habits or preferences, such as smoking, it’s beneficial to inform your hosts or fellow volunteers to ensure everyone is aware and can make necessary arrangements.
At the same time, establish your own boundaries. For instance, you might appreciate having some personal alone time during specific parts of the day or have specific dietary requirements.
Respectfully and clearly communicate these boundaries to your host, so they understand your needs and expectations.
By both respecting your host’s boundaries and establishing your own, you create a harmonious and mutually respectful environment during your stay.
This fosters a positive experience for everyone involved.
12. After your stay, consider leaving a feedback
Consider leaving feedback to contribute to the volunteer and host community.
Honest reviews can be valuable for other volunteers, offering guidance and insights. Positive feedback can highlight exceptional experiences, while constructive criticism can help hosts make improvements.
Always prioritize your safety while volunteering and exploring new places.
Take precautionary measures and stay vigilant to ensure a memorable experience and safe volunteer exchange!
💭 We Want to Hear From You! 💭
Your experiences and insights are invaluable to us and the entire volunteer community.
Have you encountered any unique challenges or found solutions during your volunteer journey that weren’t mentioned here? Or perhaps you have suggestions to make the volunteering process even safer and more fulfilling for all involved? Drop your thoughts, ideas, and suggestions in the comments below or send us a message. Together, we can enhance the volunteer experience for everyone.
Your voice truly matters! 💌🌏