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Why Do I Have To Pay For Volunteering?

In order to understand the role we play as an organisation in the international network between volunteers and NGOs in South America please also have a look at ABOUT US.

Sometimes we are asked why volunteers have to pay for their stay abroad within this network and its support of grassroot organisations in development aid work.

Here are some answers to that question. We hope this gives you a better understanding of our position as an intermediary organization and the work we do on behalf of the organizations we work with in South America. Volunteering and development aid work is a complex network with structures that are sometimes not clear to everyone at first view, and we understand that. This is why we try to shed light on the circumstances and their contextual relations.

Paid volunteering, i.e., volunteers paying for board and lodging and other expenses involved, plays a crucial role in supporting social projects and grassroots organizations. When you pay for a volunteer program within this framework, you contribute strongly to making a sustainable difference for these grassroots organizations, a difference that actually allows them to sustain themselves.

It allows them to do their actual work (e.g., environmental conservation, reforestation, animal care, and species protection, etc.), everything they need to do to keep their daily project work running while not having to take care of the heavy administrative lifting for international volunteer recruitment on top of their own administrative and local logistic requirements they have to follow up in South America.

At the same time, you can gain a lot of advantages for yourself because you can rely on the international intermediary organization as such that also acts as a trustee for you, making sure:

  • The projects you are interested in have been carefully selected and vetted, their causes have been proven to be genuine, where you will meet people who are really committed to what they do.
  • You can trust the international organization with your payment and don’t have to do the hard work yourself trying to find a trustworthy cause in a country you don’t know and of which the language (and local dialects, e.g., in the Amazon rainforest) you might not be able to speak.
  • Your payment for your journey is covered and secured by international laws and guidelines the intermediary organization has to adhere to.
  • You can also be assured that certain health and safety standards have been put into place or met.
  • The local logistics providers where you will be accommodated or the transport companies you are using in order to get to your project have also been trial and error tested for you so you don’t have to do any planning yourself, trying to figure out how to get to the project, which bus company to take, where the buses leave and arrive to safely get you to the project.
  • You have a local coordinator, a person who will be there for you to give you some cultural guidance and understanding, explaining the typical local dos and don’ts, taking care of you in case you get sick or have an injury and need a hospital with good medical care.

Financial Sustainability: Grassroots organizations often lack funding from larger entities or governments, making it essential for volunteers to contribute financially to sustain their projects and programs.

Cross-Financing: By covering their own expenses, volunteers enable grassroots organizations to allocate their limited resources towards their projects’ success.

International Reach: Intermediary organizations have the expertise to attract volunteers from around the world, diversifying the skills and experiences available to grassroots projects and fostering intercultural exchange. Paid volunteering also attracts a more committed pool of volunteers, enriching the quality of support provided for the individual social, educational, medical, and environmental projects.

Safe Arrivals: The overseas organizations ensure volunteers arrive safely at their destinations, addressing potential travel concerns and safety issues (see also below: Volunteer Itinerary Planning and Tours and Activities).

Work Networks: Volunteers are integrated into established networks, enhancing their effectiveness in contributing to local initiatives. They can also rely on a central database, a collection that stores work other volunteers have accomplished before them which give them a point and reference where to start from. (To create this database and keep it alive the organizations heavily rely on everyone’s individual work and your contribution towards it!).

Language Capabilities: Intermediaries often provide and organize language support, bridging communication gaps between volunteers and local communities, and making sure the volunteers reach a particular level of understanding the language spoken before their project work begins, thus also guaranteeing that communication barriers are minimized and the required, project-specific standards are met, e.g., when volunteers work in educational or medical projects such as schools, children shelters, elderly homes, hospitals, etc.

Connection and Growth: Normally, grassroots organizations and small NGOs work on their own, in their own field or niche and in their own country and geographically restricted area. Intermediary organizations bringing volunteers from different countries together to work with the individual NGOs are a platform for connecting not only volunteers but also the projects themselves.

Some of our volunteers choose to participate in more than one project, and sometimes in more than one country thus allowing the intermediary organization to see what a similar project in the same field (e.g., animal protection or child care) does in a different geographical location in another country. The volunteers’ reporting (if done consciously) is a great opportunity to see, observe and monitor what is going on in one project and what is happening in the other.

The intermediary organization can then collect the information from the questionnaires of the reporting, analyze, evaluate it and offer it for mutual knowledge exchange with the other organization in the same field but from another country.

The volunteer and the intermediate organization are thus the link, the connecting element, to improve project work, work standards, approaches and different methods across countries which would otherwise only hardly be feasible, because one organization in Ecuador, for instance, would not normally not be in contact with another one in the Amazon jungle in Peru.

The Intermediary organizations and the international volunteers they send can thus be not only a means of intercultural exchange but also a visionary carrier for mutual exchange of knowledge and know-how from one project to the other.

Operational Support: Intermediary organizations handle pre-arrival logistics such as marketing, recruitment, and volunteer support, enabling grassroots organizations to focus on their core missions.

Marketing Expertise: Intermediaries promote grassroots projects on a global scale, increasing visibility and support for their causes. Often, only then their causes are recognized and understood in different cultures and languages. Grassroots also normally don’t have the necessary expertise in marketing their causes internationally and in different languages so as to find enough applicants for their cause.

Recruitment Assistance: The recruitment process is streamlined, saving grassroots organizations time and resources. The intermediary organization screens the applications, conducts the interviews with the applicants and pre-selects suitable candidates from different countries which requires detailed logistical planning in different languages and time zones before handing over the pre-screened candidates to the organizations themselves (that often do not even have the time to do this or internet, e.g., as it is the case for some projects in the Amazon jungle).

Document Management: The liaison organization also collects and secures all the documents necessary between the volunteer and the local organization in order to make sure international volunteer guidelines are met and all the necessary travel documents are in place for the local organization before the volunteering starts (for example: CVs for medical projects, vaccination and health certificates, insurance policies, language tests, visa where necessary, etc.). The volunteer and project reporting is being checked and monitored by the international organization during the time the current volunteers are involved into project work, when the project has been completed and before the next volunteers arrive to continue work.

Volunteer Support: Volunteers registering with liaison organizations receive pre-arrival support. The international organization takes care of the entire planning process from start to finish. Advice is given. Pre-travel preparations are made. Questions and Answers are often not only dealt with during the recruiting period but also during the application process or interview phase, and after.

The supported grassroots organizations don’t have to worry about pre-travel preparations or that all the required travel documents are there before the new volunteers start their project work.

Volunteer Itinerary Planning: Experience and expertise in planning come to the table in case anything happens or changes.

Airline delays, missed buses, or anything else that needs attention and can disrupt the original travel planning need to be on the radar and dealt with when it occurs, often changing the entire original planning of the coming and going of multiple volunteers into one or more projects in different countries because stays in language schools, accommodations and in the actual projects might be overlapping, pre-arranged bookings with hostels, apartments, private families, language schools, and tour operators might have to be canceled, shifted, newly searched or re-booked again for different dates due to flight delays or sickness, for instance..

The locally supported organizations as well as the volunteers in this scenario mostly have peace of mind because the intermediary organization is taking care of it while the volunteer can relax and take care of their health in case they have become sick, and grassroot organizations can still concentrate on their actual work and goals and achieve what they want and need to. The volunteers can rely on the intermediate organization and do not have to re-arrange everything themselves, doing rebookings or in some cases even lose their money because often there is no refund for a booking that has been made in a hotel or hostel when the flight has been canceled, delayed or diverted shortly before*.
(*We still recommend signing up for a travel insurance though for more complex cases where one cancellation of booking follows the other and multiple accommodations and itineraries have to be re-booked again, when someone volunteers in various different projects, and in different countries). 

The intermediary organization, however, steps in, takes the risk and takes care of everything because, again, it’s done its due diligence, carefully searched for and tested the local service partners with which it often has built up long-lasting business relationships on the basis of mutual trust.

We want both parties in this relationship to have as much peace of mind as possible, the volunteers and the local NGOs we work with. This is why we not only engage in the marketing and recruiting for the NGOs but also act as a travel agent, i.e., doing the logistical planning of the entire journey a volunteer wants to do since most of our volunteers also want to do things travel agents organize and asked us for it, e.g. hiking to Machu Picchu, taking part in a survival camp in the Amazon jungle,, seeing the lost city in Colombia, mountain biking, surfing or paragliding somewhere in between.

We understand that our volunteers want to do these things and want to experience the adventures of their lifetime , but we also have the responsibility towards our partner NGOs that they will be able to start and end their project work in time because that is what the NGOs need to be able to rely on. This is why we have done the work to make sure the local service providers we work with are as reliable as possible in what they do.

It took us a long time to choose the right local service partners. They might be more expensive than some others but, for us, it’s important to be able to rely on them so the timely planning of the volunteers’ project work goes as smoothly as possible.**

**Of course, there is never a 100% guarantee that something unforeseen or unplanned might happen during a journey of 4-24 weeks, such as a cold someone catches or a bad stomach from anywhere else as well, but we do all the best we can to try and minimize the risk on our site so we can try and make sure, at least at our end, everything has been approached to go as planned. Offering these tours and activities people ask us for also allows us to cross-finance projects that need volunteers but don’t receive as many as they want and need because many volunteers also do not want to work in a small villages with only 50 people at 4000m altitude, where it can get extremely cold over night, where the indigenous live in huts with no windows, beds made out of stray and clay, where the one room where everyone sleeps is filled with smoke from the open kitchen fire and where so often hygienic standards are not yet in place and only a hole in the ground serves the most necessary human needs. If we do find someone willing to go up there at all, a lot more costs than normal are involved because everything has to be arranged individually.

The tours and activities allow the intermediary organisations to compensate if a re-booking (as described above) needs to take place, hence exactly what we stand in for and take as our responsibility.

It also allows us to cover costs for small damages, maintenance, tear and wear, buying utensils needed, re-organizing project work that might need to flexibly be adapted in case there is a roadblock or strike or a difference that needs to be paid if there is a delay and short-term accommodation needs to be organized.

Furthermore, and most importantly, it allows us to search for new projects and causes in South America that are worthwhile supporting and need help from international volunteers like you. Have a look.. 

Tours & Activities: In case you book your tours with the intermediary organization it also works as your trustee, who you can rely on as, similarly to the projects having been intensively searched for, scrutinized and carefully vetted, the tour operators also have been tested and are monitored to be safe and reliable local operators who make sure:

  • You can go with the right local tour operators who know what they are doing
  • The vans and tourist shuttles are in good working conditions when you cross some Andean passes on muddy and slippery roads. 
  • The equipment meets some safety standards and will be continuously checked and in proper condition when you go rafting, hiking, mountain biking, canyoning or paragliding.
  • The local tour guides have gone through a professional course, studies, or apprenticeship so you can be sure they give you a quality tour and are also capable of profoundly explaining everything about their culture, landscape, flora, and fauna because they can pass on the knowledge they have acquired and are not only passing you on through some trails without explaining anything to you.
  • That the tents are sealed and don’t have holes when you overnight in the Amazon rainforest and want to be protected against the mosquitoes or when you go hiking at an altitude over between 4000-6000m and it starts raining or getting cold at night.
  • The cooks are not careless and have been properly trained on hygienic standards when you are on a multiday trip so they you don’t get sick on your first day of your 5-day tour and have to return, be sick for a couple of days and wasted a few hundred Dollars to go to Machu Picchu, but all you can do is see the inside of your hospital or hotel room you are in while your money is gone instead admiring and experiencing the mystics and magics of the places you wanted to see during your adventure.
  • The diving equipment meets international safety standards and is thoroughly checked when you are underwater in 26 to 30m depth because that’s the place and time when you don’t want to run out of air, because your buoyancy controller or hose has a leak and you cannot enjoy the dive you paid and have to go up again or, even worse, really run out of air underwater. 

After all, during your program you want to be at your volunteering project in time, healthy and safe, without any delays, if possible, and so do the local projects the intermediary organization works with want as well, because they also need to be able to rely on

a) the planning of the intermediary organization and make sure everything goes well
b) they also need to be able to rely on you, your staying and contribution for the dates and times of your agreed to volunteer so they can count on you as much as on any other volunteer and plan ahead the tasks for everyone, do their job and reach their goals.

We do understand everyone who is on a tight budget. Why would we not?
We work in countries where peope often literally do not have anything to survive and don’t know how to make it from one day to the next. Most of our volunteers come from a secure and safe, socially and economically stable background.

Please ask yourself:

– Whatever your try to save during your journey, is it worth maybe missing your flight in case you need to be back at university, your job or for any other reason?
– Do you want go back home with only half of the experience you wished for?
– Do you also want to put your own time volunteering at risk as welll as the the project that is awaiting your help and contribution, i.e. the initial reason why you applied for this project? 

In order to make a volunteering experience rewarding we all have to make commitments and try our best to limit unforeseen circumstances that could negatively impact your stay abroad. From our side, we want to make your stayabroad as rich and rewarding as it can be.

An adventure in South America but a positive one! 

Thank you for your understanding of our work!

On a personal (and maybe more spiritual) note:
“IT” whatever it is, might not always be possible, not always every time everywhere for everyone, there might be things in life that happen unexpectedly, things no one can foresee or change, or change might happen that needs to be adapted to as any kind of change can happen anytime and everywhere in life.

It is how we look at our own expectations, the less we have and the more open we are the less disappointed we can become, and the more interesting life can unfold upon us. Especially when embarking on a long-term travel to countries in South America, Africa, or Asia.

Be open, and it will open the doors to the art of possibility – your own possibilities!

After all, isn’t this the adventure in itself?

We hope we could spark some thoughts, light and warmth inside you. 

Your NGO Taxi Team.