Volunteering in foreign countries is not a new concept. People have been doing it for centuries. However, where in the past it was mainly missionaries and charities who contrived to support and help those seen to be in need, this opportunity is now widely available to any one of us who dares to seek it out.

Volunteering abroad is steadily growing in popularity. According to a study done in 2009, the number of volunteering projects in the top-ten countries in 2003 was 223 in comparison to 1,741 in 2007. This is a huge increase, and represents the number of people who are interested in a more integrated and meaningful experience. However, the benefits of such experiences for the actual countries and local communities involved is a controversial subject as many organisations do not prioritise this. It is your job, as a potential volunteer, to do your research and decide which organisation is providing the best opportunties for both you, and the local communities.

The main objective of ethical volunteering is that the project you are working on should be sustainable, whether there are foreign volunteers or not. Organisations should be looking to donate time and money to the grassroots project, both of which should be managed properly, year round. This does not need to be by foreign volunteers, in fact it is much more sustainable long-term if the overall management is run by the local community. If the project is unable to run year round there should be a valid reason for this perhaps it can only be a seasonal project.

Questions to ask
1. Is there a selection interview?
2. Is there any pre-departure training?
3. Who set up and manages the project? This should always be the local community or a local charity / NGO.
4. How would the project be doing without your help? How will you contribute to their goals? Does the project really need you?
5. What proportion of the money you pay will actually go to the project directly? What is this for? Can they give you a detailed breakdown of costs?
6. What level of support is the organisation offering? Will there be a representative/ leader on the project with you? If not, why?
7. How long has this project been running? How long has it been offered by the organisation? What does the organisation add to the project?
8. What work do they anticipate you will be doing during your placement? Is this part of a longer-term plan for the project?
9. Is the work you will do sustainable after you've left? How?
10. Can you talk to past volunteers?