Volunteering abroad

If it is properly planned and implemented, 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 look for skilled people to work with our employees and partners in Kenya and Nepal to help with some of the programmes and to share their knowledge and abilities for the benefit of the beneficiaries. This could be someone working or studying in (or with experience in) child development, teaching, counselling, mentoring, public health, nursing, social welfare and development or community health. 

We also encourage groups of younger unskilled volunteers (school groups for example) to come and help run our summer camps which have been a staple of Moving Mountains for nearly twenty years, and are great fun and a great way to introduce young people to personal development through international development, travel abroad and independence. 

Some of our groups are supporters of the charity who would like to go and see for themselves what their donation has been used for, and to learn something about the country, the people and the beneficiaries and how Moving Mountains works. Many of them want to help out somewhere and we are very happy to organise these 'Friends of MM trips'. 

This page describes our thoughts and principles about volunteering or voluntourism. Our experience over many years has been overwhelmingly positive and many of the volunteers and beneficiaries have become long term friends. It is fair to say that Moving Mountains has enabled our two tenets of equality and empowerment through a sensible approach to volunteering. 

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 ensure principles of empowerment and equality in everything we do, including with respect to the beneficiaries, our staff, volunteers and school groups.

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.

Not "Saving the World" 

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 that with sensible expectations, proper information and volunteering ideas that are realistic, we can deliver what we promise.

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 a lot of our administration and handles the logistics but it is Moving Mountains and the communities which determine the content of the visit and ensure that the donated funds are properly spent.

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. People may feel they have been exploited and that the project or programme has somehow been ‘used’ for nothing other than commercial gain.

The main principle of volunteering should be one of humanity and people making a difference. At Moving Mountains 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 differentiate between skilled and unskilled assistance and plan accordingly. Skilled volunteers work with staff to help deliver a programme, unskilled volunteers take part in group events which we have been running for many years and have been proven to be beneficial and fun for all. We don’t take people just for the sake of it.

 The beneficiary 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

Our Trust Deed defines one of our objectives as providing benefits, experiences and opportunities for volunteers through global citizenship and youth development. It's 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 running volunteering placements and development education trips for groups from less advantaged, low-income communities in areas of the UK and Ireland. We also invite volunteers from Kenya and Nepal to work with the charity.  

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. 

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 stereotypes, 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.

Fundraising Goals and Paying for a Trip

When somebody signs up to one of our trips we separate the costs into Trip Fee and Fundraising Aim. We would encourage people to pay the trip fee themselves to avoid the claim of someone donating to 'a holiday'. However, we equally see the experience and benefit of volunteering as a charitable objective in itself, so we do understand that some people fundraise for the whole amount. 

The important factor is that any donor or participant is aware of the breakdown between the two and that any decisions to donate or to fundraise are informed correctly. 

For groups going out to fundraise for a specific building project we adopt a 60:40 rule whereby 60% of the amount raised goes towards the building costs, and 40% goes towards the charity general fund which enables us to pay teachers salaries and programme costs. We do this because we believe that it is never enough to just erect a structure, we need to support programmes that help people. 

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 

Our placements are not all the same, we try hard to make each placement unique 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 for groups, and up to several months for skilled individuals. Each application is treated individually and there is a requirement for a DBS check for any person who might have interaction with children.

Our volunteer age range is from chaperoned school groups to young adults in study (medical students for example), to professionals of all ages in the fields of social work, youth work and international development. 

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 time in-country is spent with Moving Mountains Kenya or Moving Mountains Nepal, which are the standalone NGOs that do the actual work. 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. 

Moving Mountains has a public liability and employers liability policy which includes volunteers who are on a short term visit abroad. 

Benefit and Role of the Volunteer

The money which is fund raised 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. 

We have no evidence that a short-term visit from a volunteer results in raising hopes for children or creates a sense of transience in their lives. The Kenyan and Nepalese staff 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 support, 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.