There are tons of volunteer organisations out there, which makes choosing the right project a right pain in the backpack. We like to give those that go the extra mile a mention on these pages; Plan My Gap Year, a new site set up by graduates Gad and Philip, is one of them.
Hot on the heels of our recent interview with Lattitude Volunteering, we decided to grill the guys on why their company is great for gap year travellers…
1. Hi Gad/Philip! You’ve done plenty of volunteering projects, can you tell us your best volunteering experience?
Our favourite experience must have been during our time at a slum school in New Delhi, India. It was the one year anniversary of the school’s opening and to celebrate the local staff and international volunteers brought the children to the front of the class and their achievements were highlighted and applauded. Many had very little or no previous education prior to attending the school.
It was a fantastic experience to witness how much the children had progressed. With the help of local staff and international volunteers, the children had begun an education that would increase the opportunities available to them in the future. The project exemplified everything that volunteering abroad is about. Need-driven projects created by local people and supported by international volunteers to help make a change and encourage development in the community.
2. What was the most important lesson you learnt from volunteering?
Through volunteering in Asia we have learned that although you may set out with the best intentions you will never change the world in such a short space of time. Volunteering and other development work is all about making small steps towards a greater good.
Too many volunteers approach their project with a goal which is too ambitious and are often left disappointed when they fall short of their aim. Our advice at PMGY is to leave your expectations at home, be open-minded and embrace everything. By all means set goals but be realistic in your ambitions.
3. What was it that inspired you to start Plan My Gap Year?
As recent university graduates and through our own experience of the job market, we believe that you now need more than academic qualifications when applying for jobs. Having both volunteered during our gap years, we believe that international volunteering is the perfect way to spend your gap year productively. You can help local communities, develop important skills and experience a culture from the inside. A meaningful gap year can really make you stand out from the crowd.
However, from our research we found that the UK gap year market is dominated by corporate companies who charge a small fortune for structured volunteering programmes. In our minds, engaging in an organised volunteer placement abroad shouldn’t cost so much.
So we founded Plan My Gap Year, which provides an affordable alternative for students and graduates in the UK and the rest of the world. A core value of Plan My Gap year is transparency. All our prices are completely transparent so you know exactly where your money is going.
Furthermore, by personally inspecting and volunteering at all the grassroots projects that we support, we are able to ensure that the advice and support we offer is accurate, informative and most importantly, honest.
4. Can you tell us a little about the volunteer projects you run and how did you select them?
Our selection process involved personally inspecting every programme we offer. Firstly, this involved speaking with over 100 organisations within the volunteering community in Asia. We spent over eight weeks in Asia during the summer where we visited a number of projects and spent time volunteering, staying in local accommodation and immersing ourselves within the local community.
We also ensured there was a local support network established in each host country. This involved working with a number of local organisations who would provide the key elements of our structured programmes. This included airport pick-ups, meals, accommodation and a local support service.
5. What makes you different from the other volunteer projects?
We acknowledge that there are a lot of gap year providers out there; the majority of them claim to be different but are in fact the same as the previous one. Who do you choose? Well, here’s how we are different:
Affordable and transparent fees: Our aim is to make our programmes accessible to motivated travellers irrespective of their financial capacity. We focus on providing the core requirements of a volunteer programme: safety, structure and sustainability.
We are 100% transparent with our fees. That way you know exactly how much of your money goes towards the local community.
Safety: Your safety is our top priority. All our programmes have been personally inspected and vetted by the PMGY team. We have built strong relationships with our local partners and together continue to regularly review and improve the quality of our programmes.
Our local teams are made up of highly experienced volunteer coordinators. They have hosted international volunteers for many years and are prepared to react in the unlikely event of an emergency. Whatever the problem, big or small, our local teams are available around the clock.
Training and support: We support our volunteers every step of the way. Before you go we will provide you with a detailed Pre-Departure Handbook which will guide you through how to prepare for your trip. In addition, our experienced UK team are always available to provide assistance.
On arrival, a member of our in-country team will collect you from the airport and help you settle in. Your orientation course will teach you everything you need to know about the country, how to stay safe and what to expect from your upcoming volunteer experience.
Responsible travel: Our responsibility is not limited to our travellers but also the projects we support. That is why all our volunteers must provide a Criminal Background Check before they travel.
Personal touch: We really know our programmes. We have stayed in the accommodation, volunteered at the projects and met the volunteers. We carefully assess each application we receive so that your personality and skills are suited to the project. Whatever your query, you can feel assured that you will be speaking to someone who can tell you exactly what to expect.
Make a difference: It is essential that our projects are need-driven and sustainable. We work closely with our local partners to ensure that our volunteers are contributing to bring about long term development.
6. What are you looking for in your volunteers?
Our volunteer programmes are not ‘book and go’ experiences. We have an application process where individuals must outline their motivations for volunteering and how they think their skills are relevant to the specific programme. Applicants are then screened by PMGY and our local teams. If we feel the individual is volunteering for the wrong reasons or we do not feel their skill set will make a difference at the project we will not accept them onto the programme.
We are looking for mature (over 18) individuals who are enthusiastic about volunteering and not looking for a glorified holiday. The majority of our projects do not require experience within the chosen field but just a desire and a passion to contribute.
7. What can your volunteers hope to get out of their experience?
Most tourists never really experience a local culture. They see all the main popular sites, frequent the usual tourist hang outs and interact with people from the same or similar countries. However, as a volunteer you will be able to experience a culture from the inside. You will work alongside local people, witness the daily challenges that they face and become immersed in their way of life. In addition, you will find that locals are fascinated to learn about your culture and eager to teach you about their own. It is certainly a mutual cultural exchange.
By spending time abroad and working within these projects, volunteers can really develop as individuals. You will face challenges and be placed outside your comfort zone. You will work across language and cultural barriers with people from very different backgrounds. It is these real life experiences that build personal and professional skills that will help you in later life. Through our own research we have found employers are increasingly recognising the benefits that international volunteering can bring to the workplace.
Lastly, the volunteering experience is all about having fun. It gives you the opportunity to experience a different culture, see new places and make friends with like-minded people from around the world. Volunteering abroad allows you to really see the world out there and it provides you with memories for a lifetime.
What do you look for in a volunteering organisation? Have you got any questions for Gad and Philip? Feel free to ask them below…