Volunteering and Global Citizenship
When planned and impletemented well, volunteerism can add value to the economic sector and make people aware of their responsibilities as global citizens. Visitors working under local leadership perform well if there is proper training and properly defined expectations on all sides. Even short term unskilled volunteering works if the individual effort contributes to a proper long-term aim.
We prepare people to integrate into local structures and to adopt our ethos of collaboration and respected relationships. Volunteers understand that their presence is a part of the change and exchange; they become part of our work by contributing directly to our programmes and projects, engaging in data collection and evaluation, learning about the complex nature of development work and benefitting from an enriching personal development experience. It is an invaluable experience for anyone and particularly those wishing to move into a career in development or the third sector.
The future really does demand participation and people still want the authenticity of personal experience despite the interconnectedness of the internet. An opportunity to travel and be part of a community in a different country is an aspiration and challenge. We have many stories of lives being changed for the better simply by meeting someone and sharing thoughts about life and the future.
Read our new intern Kristina's thoughts on volunteer tourism here!
Personal Development and Equality - Everybody Benefits
Volunteering and participating builds skills, experience and confidence. It heightens self-awareness and self-esteem and it facilitates an exchange which helps develop ideas about our place in the world: the important words to add here are “for everybody”.
Our experience is that by connecting people in a positive way we have enriched lives. We ensures principles of empowerment and equality in everything we do, including with respect to individual volunteering placements, school and group trips and of course the beneficiaries.
International Moving Mountains volunteers are always matched with a local peer volunteer during their placements or development education trips. Meeting someone from another country, spending time together and realising that underneath it all we’re all the same, empowers and motivates people to think about their lives and change their circumstances. These interactions are very powerful and emotional for all parties, and over the years we’ve seen some incredible stories come out of those visits.
However a trip abroad may involve visiting people whose rights have been abused or have had their rights limited or even removed. For example, it is a shock to meet people who don’t have access to basic rights like a proper standard of living or an education. Those people undeniably need more ‘help’ than somebody whose basic human rights are valued and upheld.
The trick is to approach the visit in a spirit of equality, and understand that the ‘beneficiary’ of any visit is as much the visitor as it is the host. All the benefits of self-confidence, self-esteem and happiness apply to everyone in the equation.
Let’s get away from the idea that only the ‘haves’ can give something of value to the ‘have nots’. Everyone has something to give, even if they are materially poor. Nobody ever got rich just on money alone; leading by example and promoting values and morals can make as much of an impact as any amount of money.
Check out this blog post written by a former Moving Mountains volunteer on their experience with us in Kenya.
Not "Saving the World" - Realistically Pitched Volunteer Placements
We’re not making any claims to save the world, but clearly a combination of travel, learning and sharing does change attitudes and empower people. The right values have to be in place to create an environment where doors are opened in people’s minds. We have worked very hard to achieve this and continue to do so.
Our placements provide benefits for the visitor and for the people being visited - but we are not trying to over-sensationalise the idea or make it out to be something it is not. One person going out to a different country to 'help' could bring little benefit to the hosts and at worst could be a bad form of tourism and even exploitative. We have shown the opposite, that with sensible expectations, proper training and volunteer placements that are realistic, we can deliver what we promise.
Again, it all depends on the ethos and basis of the organisation and the way in which these experiences are presented and marketed. We have found that if the trip is presented sensibly, and expectations are realistic for everyone concerned, then those few months perform a vital function to the local economy and they allow schools, clinics, childrens' homes and the like, to develop in the long term. We have many examples of this, you only need to look at all of our project and programme pages on this site. The stories represent collaborations over many years that have brought great happiness and benefit.
Volunteering does not have to be about cynical marketing, or a callous selling of dreams and commercial opportunism. We work with responsible travel company Adventure Alternative which funds our administration and handles all of the logistical elements of running a trip (including transport, food, accommodation) but it is Moving Mountains and the communities which determine the content of the visit and ensure that the donated funds are properly invested, managed and their impact monitored and evaluated. We provide all of the proof of this in our data collection and impact maps, plus of course many years of informal qualitative feedback from a diverse array of stakeholders of each project and programme.
The Ethos Behind Our Placements and Tackling the Controversy About Volunteering
There is a lot of controversy and debate about volunteering, yet there will always be a desire in people to help others. The issue revolves around how the relationship and attitudes of the visitor and host are managed and the integrity of what is being done in the name of 'development'.
There is an argument presented that says that volunteering is used to market commercial tours using emotionally driven messages and packaging. Understandably, it becomes an emotionally charged subject if people feel they have been exploited and that the project or programme has somehow been ‘used’ for nothing other than commercial gain.
Frankly, it all comes back to values, and the priority given to the development aim. Any activity like this needs an equitable approach to personal development and to the international development aim. Give people transparency, follow a ‘fair trade volunteering’ principle with clear values and aims and you’re more likely to succeed.
The main principle of volunteering placements should be one of humanity and people making a difference. At Moving Mountains our ethos is that there should be something for everybody who has something to offer. Every person who contributes brings something of themselves to the sense of community good. We place people according to their interests and skills but also according to the needs of the community or programme in any particular area.
We also work with other development organisations and have a collborative and cooperative philosophy. Our ethos is very much about long-term sustainability and co-building programmes. We ensure that visiting groups and volunteers are fully immersed into the local community during their stay, that they become part of a larger team of many stakeholders and that they understand their role in this bigger picture. We simply don’t take people just for the sake of it.
Avoiding the Pitfalls of Volunteering - Development is the Priority
One of the biggest pitfalls of volunteering today is that the aim of personal development for the visitor overshadows the aims of the international development organisation. We believe that the objectives of the charity should determine the nature of any volunteering visit. The local stakeholders must be involved in deciding the nature of any visit and how the benefits should be shared out.
At Moving Mountains every visit by any group or individual is assessed and agreed by the local Moving Mountains NGO and by the local stakeholders. This could be the parent’s committee or co-operative or educational authority or combination of different organisations and groups. In addition, every visitor raises an amount of money which is donated to the local MM NGO and used to help fund a particular programme or project as well as contributing towards other programme costs of the NGO (not administrative costs, rather costs such as employing teachers and counsellors and field workers).
Additionally, every visitor is required to learn about the programme they are visiting and expected to communicate with the local Moving Mountains staff before they leave home. There are rules for people visiting schools, children’s homes, villages and project areas, which reflect country laws on child protection and a healthy dose of respect for the communities being visited.
Opportunities for Volunteers - Authentic Engagement
Our Trust Deed specifically defines one of our objectives as providing benefits, experiences and opportunities for volunteers through global citizenship and youth development. Our placements are not only for the well-off, they are not a luxury and they don’t deny someone else a job. We have a wealth of accumulated experience developing and implementing volunteering placements and development education trips for groups from less advantaged, low-income communities in areas of the UK and Ireland, including South Wales, Northern Ireland, Aberdeenshire and inner London (as well as for volunteers from countries as diverse as Canada, Zambia and UAE). We also involve volunteers from the countries where we work as a standard part of any placement or trip. The benefits to both sets of volunteers are highly valued and the relationships forged and the impacts on personal development are often dramatic and always appreciated.
We make special efforts to target and support disadvantaged groups to ensure they are not excluded from participation. Through our experience managing long-term European Voluntary Service projects (through the European Union's Youth-In-Action and Erasmus+ programmes) we also have additional expertise in designing and managing placements specifically targeted at young people with fewer opportunities, particularly young people facing economic obstacles. Our Equal Opportunities Policy provides the framework to ensure that we treat everyone equally, regardless of background, gender, ethnicity, etc.
We select and prepare volunteers and visitors properly and we would love people to stay involved with Moving Mountains afterwards of course. We very much take the view that if you can help us deliver our programmes and help us to pay our professional staff, then our commitment is to provide you with an excellent placement that will hopefully enhance your own life choices.
For us, visitors going to spend time with our staff and learning about the work of an NGO is an education in itself and an adventure. The simple aim is to offer an experience that encourages exploration and innovation and puts people in a place where their opinions and morals would be challenged. We see this as development education, not volunteering.
Our visitors engage with teachers, counsellors, social workers and community health practitioners to examine what words like development, poverty, community, discrimination, prejudice and education can actually mean. They are encouraged to look at solutions in terms of the Millennium Sustainable Goals and how different communities tackle these problems. Properly run, these programmes really do challenge people to look at stereotypes and consider how globalisation is changing the world and the ways in which we will have to adapt in order to flourish.
We also provide similar opportunities to our country staff to travel and expand their own horizons; for example, many of the Kenyan field workers have come to the UK and Ireland to deliver lectures and training programmes to schools and organisations.
Fundraising Goals and Paying for a Trip
When somebody signs up to one of our trips we separate the costs clearly into Trip Fee and Fundraising Aim. That means there are always two payments to make to two different organisations.
Trip Fee – This is a payment to the travel company Adventure Alternative for the logistics like transport, accommodation, activities and staffing, plus the organisation of your trip and the back-up while you are in-country. A breakdown is provided on the invoice. Costs depend on time spent in country. Legally any package trip abroad must comply with national and international laws, so as a charity we cannot 'sell' a trip as a package because we are not a tour operator.
Fundraising Aim – This is a donation to Moving Mountains which contributes directly to the area of work you will visit and also helps pay our field workers, teachers, community health workers, counsellors and staff. This donation is really the heart and soul of our fundraising initiatives and it enables us to exist. We provide a complete breakdown of how your donated funds are spent.
We are flexible about arrangements such as when you visit but we ask that you respect the ethic of Moving Mountains when it comes to the What and the How of your visit. Our priority is as much the benefit to the host community as your personal experience.
Fair Trade Volunteering
We are founding members of Fair Trade Volunteering which provides clear guidelines on how organisations should prioritise and manage their volunteering programmes with the benefit of the host as important as the personal development of the visitor.
Ultimately it’s about being fair and honest, and not sending people out on irrelevant trips which do nothing for the host and make false claims to the visitor. We have been working hard at making sure our trips have integrity and meaning for a long time now and all of our visitors understand that they are part of a long-term development aim.
Give a Little and Get a Lot in Return - Responsible Volunteering and Being Part of the MM Family
We offer volunteer placements in Kenya, Nepal, Borneo and Tanzania. All placements are professionally run and managed and enable volunteers to visit the countries where we work and make a difference, immersing themselves in the local culture, having a significant educational experience and making lots of new friends. We have been running placements since 2002 and try our hardest to ensure absolute professionalism and respect for everybody concerned. We have a huge network of staff, contacts and partners in the countries where we work and we can promise that you will be welcomed as a friend and leave as 'one of the family'.
Our placements are not all the same, we try hard to make each placement special and we recognise that no one size fits all when it comes to what people want to get out of these trips. Our priority is to deliver a realistic expectation and ensure that it fits with the needs of the local people.
There are short-term placements from a minimum of two or three weeks up to several months. Each application is treated indivdually and there is a requirement for a DBS check if you will be working with children. Our volunteers range from 'gap' age right through to adults, from company employees to professionals in the fields of social work, youth work and international development. We also welcome people who can help in areas such as accountancy, management, data collection and evaluation.
In both Kenya and Nepal we have houses for use by volunteers with all amenities, and they offer privacy and your own space for living. People generally buy and prepare their own food, and there is plenty of time for exploring the local culture and history, learning new skills such as speaking the local language and cooking, plus of course socialising with new friends.
Who is Responsible?
The placements are promoted by Moving Mountains in the UK but the physical time is spent with Moving Mountains Kenya or Moving Mountains Nepal, which are the standalone NGOs that we have set up. In Borneo the time would be spent in the villages in the jungle and also in a homestay. In Tanzania volunteers get involved in a school development project on the lower slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro. In all cases, volunteers work with the field workers and staff carrying out the programmes, whether it be child care or teaching, community health care or construction. Every volunteer is trained and supervised and has access to a large network of people who help to make the experience so special.
Benefit and Role of the Volunteer
The money which is fundraised from volunteers really does enable us to carry out our work. Historically we have always found that once people visit and experience our ‘model’ of development, they tend to get very involved and become part of the fundraising effort. So, we ask that groups and volunteers achieve a minimum donation for their trip, and hopefully stay with us for the long term. The fundraising pays for the costs of some of our field workers who you end up working with and nobody loses out on employment because of your visit, in fact quite the opposite. It becomes very obvious that your visit is a learning experience but that you also have a fantastic opportunity to meet many of the beneficiaries and have a positive impact on their lives.
There is no evidence to suggest that a short-term visit results in raising hopes for children or creates a sense of transience in their lives. The Kenyan and Nepalese employees have been working with them for many years and everybody understands the role and value of a visitor. Neither do any of the institutions that we run, especially children's homes, operate exclusively because of volunteers; Moving Mountains has a commitment to them which exists outside of the volunteering programme. Nor do we allow any of the institutions that we work with to promote, market or sell volunteer placements independently; their remit is determined by Government authorities which handle the allocation of children as wards of the court to registered homes, our role is to support and assist.
You are welcome to contact previous volunteers and ask their opinion about our placements and we strongly encourage you to question us as much as possible before committing. Please also take a moment to read the information on the rest of this site about our ethics towards volunteering and placements and ensure you are making an informed decision before applying to us. We are members of Fair Trade Volunteering which has a set of criteria to ensure that organisations running development placements are placing equal importance on, and financial benefit for, the host community or NGO. All monies raised by you would be carefully itemised so that you can exactly how it is spent.
Please feel free to contact us on email@example.com if you would like any further information or to discuss volunteering options for yourself, your group or organisation.