Archive for February 2007

WorldWide volunteering interview: Liz Haigh

February 25, 2007

Liz Haigh

Volunteer co-ordinator

“My job is to answer people’s initial queries and to help them use our database to find their ideal volunteering project. Sometimes we get people who come to us and know exactly what they want and other times they have only a vague idea and just need as much information as possible.”

“Our aim is to promote volunteering so that people know more about it. We have five volunteer project managers and they go into schools and speak to students about volunteering – and try to change the image of it, not all projects are working in old people’s homes, there are some really exciting and different projects.”


“We’re funded by lots of different organisations; we apply to charitable trusts for grants to fund our projects and services.”

“The enquiries we get are from two main age groups, the 16-21 year olds and older people who have taken early retirement.”

“Young people seem more aware now because of the research available to do on the internet.”

“Volunteering helps people out and also helps yourself out, and makes them stand out from the crowd.”

“People these days that were once regarded as old really aren’t now, people want an adventure and now that the kids have left home, flights are cheaper and there is more and more in the media about opportunities for older people – they are thinking ‘I’ve earned my money, I want to do something different, not just sit around’.”


“When I travelled I don’t think I even thought about volunteering, now it seems people plan their trips a lot more and think about doing a volunteering project.”

“People combine working abroad and doing a volunteering project, especially people who go on projects for a year.”

“We have links with 1,400 voluntary organisations and around 1.1 million projects are listed in our database.”

“We’ve had some really good feedback from those using the service, some people don’t know where to go for projects, especially the ones in really obscure countries, and so we are a good starting point.”


“Think properly about where you really want to go, try and narrow it down to a country – rather than just saying ‘Africa’. A lot of people forget just how big the world is. Do lots of research before you go and raise money before jetting off.”


“The large companies that offer volunteer placements operate exactly like travel agents, and I’ve heard a lot of complaints from people that they thought a percentage of their money they paid for the trip would be paid to the organisation they were working with but in fact it wasn’t. Companies like i-to-i are charging an awful lot of money but whether people get as much out of it as they would going with a smaller, more specialist agency, and remains to be seen.”


“People get more confidence, they see things they would never normally see, meet lots of different people, if you’re going to a completely different culture then you’re going to see a completely different people, way of doing things, and get an insight into a different set of values, you learn how to get on with different people and you learn how to tolerate.”


Tom Wood: working in the States and France

February 12, 2007

1. How old are you?

2. Where are you from?

Originally Helsby, Cheshire. (near Chester, Liverpool)

3. Are you a student? If so, what do you study and where do you study?

Yes. Computer Science at the University of Bristol
4. Where did you travel to and how long for?

In 2004 – I worked on a summer camp in upstate New York, USA for 10
weeks, followed by 2 weeks travelling in Boston, New York City &
Washington DC.
In 2005 – 10 weeks working on a campsite in Dordogne, France.

5. Who did you go with?

2004 was BUNAC’s “KAMP” programme. 2005 was a job with Canvas Holidays
as a campsite courier. In both cases I didn’t know anyone else till I
got there!
6. If you went with a volunteer organisation, who was it?

7. What did you do on your placement?

2004 – mainly working in the “camp canteen”, a snack bar open to kids in
the evening, serving pizza, hotdogs, milkshake, ice cream etc. Also
cleaning & maintenance. I lived on camp for the 10 weeks.

2005 – cleaning and preparing tents and mobile homes, showing in
customers, visiting customers and solving problems e.g. minor
maintenance. Lived on the campsite under canvas with other couriers.
8. What was the best bit about traveling?

2004 – friendships on camp, getting to know a bit of the culture in the
US (from staff from a variety of backgrounds as well as from the kids),
and free ice cream.

2005 – friendships with other couriers, relaxed attitude, team spirit,
sunshine, cheap wine.

9. What was the worst bit?

2004 – being a bit “in the middle of nowhere” for most of the time – 30
mins walk down the road there was WalMart, a couple of gas stations, a
supermarket, Home Depot, Dunkin Dounts and McDonalds etc but and a
village with one bar, but that was about it.

2005 – cleaning tents in 35 degree C temperatures…

10. Do you plan to travel in the future?

Yes – but probably not manual labour abroad. Although I do miss the sun
and relaxed attitude in France.
11. Do you have pictures or videos from your trip? (If yes, then can you
send them to me, or do you have them hosted anywhere online?)

Yes, some photos:



see also

PS – the voluntary work I do wasn’t abroad – I volunteer with St John
Ambulance when I’m at uni in Bristol.

although these are a little out of date).

1. Looking back at your time working on the camps, which experience was
best? States or Europe?

I’m not really sure. Working on the camp in the US perhaps wasn’t as
enjoyable as France, but the chance to travel around the US after camp
without having to pay for the plane tickets was a big bonus. I guess I
learned more about the “local” culture in the US, but got on better with
my colleagues in France. Probably France was more relaxed so more
enjoyable from that point of view.

2. What was the biggest difference between working in the States and in

The work was quite different – in the US everything was fairly
regimented (as you would expect on a kid’s camp) – in France provided
you got the work done you had more freedom the rest of the time – and
more “civilisation” nearby to enjoy on your day off.

3. Do you wish you’d spent more time travelling instead of working?

Not really. If I’d travelled more I’d have had to earn the money to pay
for it somehow – and working on the camp in the US or campsite in France
was much more fun than working at home saving up to go travelling would
have been.

4. How did you go about applying to work at the camps? Did you have to
fill out lots of forms? Is a visa hard to obtain?

I got a brochure from BUNAC and then filled in their application form.
They processed it and found me a job on a camp – then the fun started!
For all the BUNAC programmes you travel under a student exchange visa,
which requires several long application forms to be completed, and a day
trip to London for a brief interview (preceded by lots of queuing) at
the US Embassy. BUNAC help sort the process out though – and provided
you are a student and meet all the requirements I don’t think there’s
any reason why you wouldn’t get a visa – the process is just a bit tedious.

5. What was the benefit of working instead of undertaking a volunteering

You earn money while you’re out there, so you don’t have to save up for
ages to go travelling. They pay for your flights/travel from the UK too.

6. Were the jobs what you thought they would be?

I guess so, more or less. I think what you end up doing to some extent
(especially on the kids camp) depends on where you end up and who your
boss happens to be, so I wasn’t too sure what to expect.

7. Did you get homesick and if so, how did you deal with it?

Not particularly. There were a few days on camp in the US where I got
very bored and wanted to be somewhere else – but we managed to keep each
other going. Buying cheap phonecards and calling home two or three times
a week helped.

8. You said after the States trip you went for the Europe trip because
you wanted to do something with your summer, how did you cope with
coming back from the States? Did you suffer from depression or a change
in mood after your experiences abroad?

I wouldn’t say depression! But, you know the feeling when you get back
to holiday, start work, and partway through the next week think “I wish
I was back there again?”. It was a bit like that, except instead of a
2-week holiday I’d been away for 12 weeks, so the feelings were a bit
stronger. Coping with it was a case of looking forward to the future –
finding something to do the next summer.

9. What advice would you give to people planning to work at the camps
you worked at?

Go for it – whichever approach you choose it’s something different to do
in the summer. Yes it’s low pay and hard work – but the chance to see
new places, meet new people and learn new things (and better weather
than the typical British summer!) makes up for it. Much more memorable
and rewarding than a McJob at home…

10. What advice would you give to young travellers in particular?

Especially if you’re a student, make the most of the few remaining long
summer holidays you have. Take a deep breath and try something new (yes,
OK, compared to what many people do working in the US or France is
fairly tame… but I guess I’m quite a cautious person so it was a big
step for me!), and be prepared to change your attitude and lifestyle a
bit as a result.