The first step is choosing the charity. Have a browse of this and check out the countries and projects related to each charity. I chose Progressio because three out of five of the countries they worked in were based in Latin America and I therefore had a greater chance of being placed in one of these. The other charities had an assortment of countries from different continents, but for me learning and improving my Spanish was a big motive for signing up.
Additionally, the duration of all the Progressio trips was 10 weeks, which was optimal; the other five charities all had trips that were 12 weeks long. It didn’t bother me that Progressio had Catholic roots, but I know this puts some people off; however, religion had no impact on the project whatsoever.
The process of getting onto this trip was fairly easy and included a selection day in London and then a three-day training weekend before being asked to raise £800. The selection day was with lots of other potential volunteers and they have lots of group activities to test your ‘teamwork skills’ and then you have a one-on-one interview to assess whether you’re a suitable candidate for the trip.
If you apply early enough then you’ll be able to choose your country. I applied in May with my assessment day in July for a January departure, so I was lucky enough to be able to choose El Salvador, but I know many applicants were just placed anywhere. I’ve always wanted to become fluent in Italian and Spanish, so I thought that this trip would improve my language skills and I would get a lot of exposure. This trip was fantastic for language practice and I got a lot of conversational practice with the national volunteers we worked with on a daily basis, who became our friends (cue soppy music). For anyone who does not have a basic understanding of Spanish, be aware that it is a very important element of the trip and starting with absolutely no knowledge of Spanish is very difficult, unless you have a knack for languages or you are very sociable and outgoing by nature (and therefore more willing to get stuck into communicating despite language barriers). Instead you may be better off heading to either Malawi or Zimbabwe where English is spoken.
No matter where you go or which charity you do it with, you will be asked to fundraise £800, £1500 if you come from a particularly wealthy family (I don’t make the rules!) I’d raised £200 from friends and family, put in £300 of my own money and was lucky enough to obtain a £280 grant from the Jack Petchey Grant for Individual Volunteering (only for those who live in London/Essex). A lot of people on the trip had done athletic activities to raise the funds, but I’m not atheltic. And I was working full-time…
The training weekend was fantastic and definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It was an expenses paid weekend in a hotel lodge in Essex with sixty other people going to all of the five countries. There are two training weekends available which cover the same content, so generally you only get to meet half of your group. The food and meeting people was great, but definitely the best bit was getting drunk in the evenings (sorry future employers).
After the training weekend there wasn’t much more to prepare and there was only vaccinations, appropriate clothes, language-learning and shopping to be done. The best purchase I made was a pocket Spanish dictionary, a grammar book and one Spanish novella to work through. For Latin America, no special vaccinations were needed (rabies is a waste of money), nor malaria tablets. January-March is their summer so barely any winter clothes were needed either. This is definitely not the case for the rainy season though.
After the ten weeks you will also have a Returners Weekend approximately a month after and have six months to complete your ‘Return Volunteer Action’ which you’re required to do. This can be anything from helping out at a Training Weekend to helping out at the office or fundraising more money for Progressio, it’s all up to you. I’m still in El Salvador and will have my Return Weekend early April and commence action before summer, so contact me then if anyone wants more details.