Family Volunteering: Safety & Advice
By Hannah Atkins
Ever considered volunteering abroad as a family? It’s a concept growing in popularity – spending part of your time on an overseas holiday helping out on long-term sustainable projects. In this blog post, we’ve put together a list of the most common questions and concerns that parents may have, along with our suggestions.
Family volunteer trips are wonderful way to introduce the concept of altruism to your children in a very hands-on way, showing them the power that one person has to help another, no matter how small. Furthermore, you have the chance to bond as a family and learn about a different culture together while assisting on worthwhile community projects. As an added bonus, it gets the children away from their beloved TV screens or mobile phones, and allows them to become involved in practical activities where they will have the chance to see the results of their hard work.
Volunteering will also allow you to explore a different side of the destination that you wouldn’t normally get to experience when relaxing on the beach or visiting tourist attractions.
Naturally, as a parent you may have some concerns about volunteering abroad with your family! Here are the most commonly raised issues and our responses, to put your mind at ease.
Safety: Potential volunteers should ask the company they are travelling with for destination recommendations, as well as the extent of their local support and supervision. Another handy resource is the FCO, which always has up-to-date information about local safety.
At Projects Abroad, All our projects are fully researched, safety audited and risk assessed in accordance with the British Standard BS8848 for the Adventure Travel Sector. We have many procedures and systems in place to ensure you have the support you need to enjoy your placement with peace of mind.
Accommodation: Volunteer accommodation can vary according to destination, ranging from modest host homes to bungalows or hotels and apartments. Ask your company about accommodation specifics as well, so that your teenagers know what to expect – will they be sharing a room with you? Are there hot showers?
On most of our Projects Abroad placements, you will stay with a friendly host family, who are vetted for safety and cleanliness, and will provide you with wonderful home cooked meals! In some cases, you will stay in shared volunteer apartments.
Food: What if your kids are picky eaters? It’s an understandable worry, especially when the cuisine is likely to be different from what you’re used to. The best thing is to do some research into the local cuisine, and check with the company who will be providing your food – a host family or a hotel? From there, you can see about making special arrangements.
Here at Projects Abroad, we will do our best to accommodate you! Let us know any special dietary requirement when you apply, and we will be able to take that into consideration.
Language: The language barrier is a natural worry, but it is something which is very quickly overcome. In most destinations, staff and host families will speak sufficient English. Of course, you can also take your own language strengths into account when deciding on a country – knowledge of Spanish or French can be very useful.
If you feel like your skills could use some brushing up, or you’d like to learn one of the local languages, Projects Abroad offer special language courses that you can add-on to your placement.
Childcare: This is probably one of the most important aspects of your trip – who will look after your young child if they get tired during the day, for instance? It’s important to find out from your volunteer company what arrangements can be made.
Projects Abroad do not offer childcare services, so parents or older siblings will be responsible for looking after the younger ones. If they need a break, other family members can take it in turn to keep an eye on them. We are very flexible on our projects, and you can arrange a timetable that works for your family! We also encourage families with young children to join a project where you can all work together, and will help you select a specific project that will allow you to do that.
Project work: Obviously, you need to make sure that your chosen project site is safe for children, and that there will be age-appropriate volunteer activities in which they can participate.
When you apply with Projects Abroad, let us know the ages of your children, and we will be able to recommended projects with activities that are suitable for the whole family to participate in - whether it’s painting a wall, arranging sports activities or working in a community garden.
“It was, however, the project itself that decided where we would eventually go. I was interested in doing some kind of teaching as I enjoy being with children and sharing knowledge. Moreover I was intending to take my own ten year old son, and I felt that a classroom would be an interesting and safe environment for him.”
The Connollys - Family volunteer trip to Ghana Teaching IT.
What type of volunteering opportunities are available for families?
We have a wealth of experience sending volunteers overseas, and in the past few years have sent an increased number of families on trips abroad. When arranging for a family to volunteer together, we always keep in mind that there is no such thing as a “typical” family! We work hard to personalise your project and accommodation to your requirements and interests. That being said, there are certain destinations and project categories that we find more suitable than others for families. Here are a few suggestions of programmes that allow for everybody to take part, no matter their age or skill level:
Care: There is a wide scope for everyone to get involved on a Care placement. From helping with homework and teaching basic skills to playing educational games and assisting with building maintenance, there are activities suited to volunteers of all ages.
Teaching: Families on a Teaching project can help improve children’s English skills by assisting with lessons and organising fun activities. There is also room to get involved in coaching extra-curricular activities, playing educational games and assisting with extra lessons.
Sports: We have a variety of Sports programmes available, so everyone can play to their strengths. Coach a specific sport, or arrange physical education activities for children during and after school. These placements can also be combined with a Care project if you’d prefer some variety.
However, you are not limited to these options! If there is a different project you’d like to volunteer on as a family, chat to us and we will do our best to accommodate you.
Family volunteering with Projects Abroad
Our projects run year-round, and families are welcome to join at any time, for however long suits them. We can accept volunteers aged four years and older with their families. You don’t need any previous experience to join one of our placements – all we require is enthusiasm and dedication to helping a disadvantaged community.
And it’s not all work and no play! You will have time off on weekends and after your placement has finished during the week. This gives you and your family the chance to go exploring, discovering the sights (and sites!) of your new host country. There is also an opportunity to embark on further travel after your time at the project is over.
Accommodating special needs
Projects Abroad also welcomes families who have special circumstances. Recently, former volunteer Suzanne shared her experience of volunteering at a kindergarten in Sri Lanka with her son Thomas, who has autism and cerebral palsy.
“I contacted several organisations for advice. The initial responses were negative, saying that they had no experience of this kind of challenge, and could not offer support. I then emailed organisations that plan volunteering placements. Eventually I received a positive response from Projects Abroad, who were very supportive and helped us find the right placement,” she said.
“Every single aspect of his condition was taken into consideration, including his behavior, his likes and dislikes, and his diet. I am so grateful to Projects Abroad for matching us with this placement…Thomas is now 12 and he often speaks very fondly of his time in Sri Lanka, and would love to return one day.”
Ultimately, a volunteer trip abroad provides families with a unique shared experience, one where you will make lasting memories that will be talked about for years.
Add meaning to your family holiday abroad by making a difference in the lives of others. Find out more about volunteering abroad with your family.
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