Worth Our Wait In Gold

If you’ve ever nearly hyperventilated whilst refreshing your browser over and over to get Glastonbury or Coachella tickets, you get it. If you’ve waited patiently outside H&M for hours to get your hands on a swimsuit designed by Beyoncé, you get it. If you’re such a Harry Potter fan that you may have damaged your eyesight staring at your computer screen each week, desperate to be one of the “Friday Forty”, you get it. You know that when something’s the best it’s worth waiting for and our placements are no exception.

Our Mental Health Placements in Bali and Sri Lanka often reach capacity 8-12 months in advance because we are essentially the Adele gig of voluntary placements. And although we understand that if you miss out due to capacity restrictions you may be thinking, “never mind I’ll find someone like you,” we also feel it’s our responsibility to help you to make an informed and ethical decision about who you choose to go abroad with because, sadly, not all volunteer organisations are created equal.

Here are some key points to consider and questions to ask any voluntary organisation you plan on going abroad with. Including us.

What kind of visa do you need to volunteer?

Volunteer organisations sending volunteers to work abroad on Tourist Visas are often not complying with local laws.

Many countries, like Thailand, require an additional visa to volunteer, but this regulation is often ignored by organisations with voluntary projects abroad. As a result, over the years, many organisations have been fined and some of their destinations completely closed due to volunteers being caught with the wrong visa. Sadly, if this happens to you, you could be personally fined or deported and potentially banned from further travel into the country. #NotWorthIt

We work alongside the governments of the countries where we work and will always assist you in obtaining the correct visa for the work you will be doing throughout your placement. We would never put you at risk or ask you to break the law.

How many countries do you work in?

Organisations with lots of different destinations have difficulty being sustainable. This practice of dropping volunteers in and out of countries with no consistency promotes voluntourism and directly conflicts with promoting lasting change.

We work in three countries where we have focused on building lasting relationships with our projects and communities. Our placements often reach capacity because we have a maximum number of volunteers we would recruit and we would never saturate our hospitals and projects for profit. Our placements run year round and our projects do not directly depend on our volunteers to run, therefore we foster independence not codependence.

Do you exploit service users?

This is an image from a campaign parodying the "save Africa" trope by www.saih.no. You can watch their videos here.

This is an image from a campaign parodying the "save Africa" trope by www.saih.no. You can watch their videos here.

Of course no one would say "yes" to this question, but take a look through their website and any promotional materials to find the real answer. Do they feature photos of children’s faces or of vulnerable people? Do you think it’s acceptable to take photos like this of children in your country to use as a marketing tool? We hope your answer to this is a big "no". These service users are unable to consent to their photo being used and most likely don’t know that their image is being used to sell a product.

We do not allow volunteers to take any photos or video at any of our projects. Any photos we have taken ourselves have been with the direct consent of the facility and we would never share a photo where a service user could be identified. This is unethical, distasteful and exploitative.

What is the minimum amount of time I can volunteer?

@barbiesavior should put that child down.

@barbiesavior should put that child down.

It may sound appealing to spend a week or two volunteering abroad if that’s all you have to spare, but what kind of consistency is that providing for that community? Often organisations send out small numbers of volunteers sporadically throughout the year, so there's no regularity or routine, which can be disruptive and confusing for service users.

Our minimum placement length, for anyone wanting to work hands-on with service users, is four weeks - the first of which is training. We want you feel fully prepared to not only work in a challenging environment, but to do so in a completely different culture. Our projects are well structured and we are regarded in the community as teachers and practitioners, so in order to get to grips with facilitating these intense, practical sessions with clients, we feel that a minimum of three weeks in country is necessary. We also run our projects year round, so there are always other volunteers to continue the great work you started.

If you're unable to commit to an extended placement abroad, we suggest finding an alternative, educational trip like our week-long Clinical and Ancient Psychology Program in India. This program provides a real insight into global mental health treatment without directly working with clients.

Do you employ local people?

Here are some of our awesome Sri Lankan team members. From our co-founder, Yasintha, to area managers and coordinators, our team work hard to make sure our projects benefit their community.

Here are some of our awesome Sri Lankan team members. From our co-founder, Yasintha, to area managers and coordinators, our team work hard to make sure our projects benefit their community.

Any organisation which employs few to no members of the community where they work should be avoided. In addition to this question, see if the opportunities available could actually take jobs away from a local person. If you’re going abroad to build, why? Are there not any local builders in residence who could be paid to do this work?

Actively contributing to the lack of employment prospects in developing countries is a huge issue, which is largely a result of voluntourism. Volunteer organisations charge foreigners, who are often unqualified to do the work, a pretty penny to do manual labour in a developing country, which benefits the voluntary organisation, but no one else. This damaging system contributes to unemployment by intentionally removing job opportunities from a qualified residents. Please avoid supporting this practice at all costs.

In Sri Lanka, 90% of our team is Sri Lankan and in Bali, 50% of our team is Balinese and we’re always looking to increase the number of national team members we employ. No one knows the country better or can give you a more unique insight into the culture than our brilliant national team members. We want to empower and employ those who reside in the countries where we work to help initiate our volunteers into the country properly and to proactively eradicate any toxic “west is best” ideology.

Is any kind of participant screening done?

Can you just book yourself a place like you would a holiday? Are there any minimum requirements or is a criminal background check advised?

Indiscriminately sending people abroad to work with children and vulnerable individuals is common practice with many volunteer organisations, but we think that’s unacceptable.

Every applicant to our placements needs to be interviewed and is then subject to a DBS check, and in some cases further information and screening is required. Because the facilities where we work are not tourist attractions, individuals need the necessary skills and knowledge to be able to work effectively on our placements. No one can simply sign up, they need to prove they can add value to the projects where we work.

Do they support any activities not in line with your ethics?

Do they promote animal tourism like trips to elephant sanctuaries or orphanages? If you’re an animal lover we urge you to look into the practices of these facilities. You should be wary of any organisation who aligns themselves with these practices.

We do not offer tours or any other “add ons” to our placements. Our placements are educational in nature and stand alone. Your weekends are yours to explore as you like, but we strongly recommend seeing animals in the wild.

How will this placement help my career?

Look closely into the content of any volunteer program. Are you building on skills you already have and will the opportunity abroad help you to acquire new ones? Are you working alongside knowledgeable professionals who can help you grow both personally and professionally throughout your time away? Or will you spend a minimal amount of time working on projects with little structure or care placed on impact management?

Our placements are highly valued by both employers and educational institutions, which is why we partner with so many universities. In fact, some universities allow students studying psychology to use our placement as course credit.

On our placements you’ll be trained by professionals and work independently, with support, for about 6-8 hours each day. Our placements are designed for those serious about pursuing a career in mental health and many of our previous volunteers have gone on to brilliant careers within the sector.

We know that when it comes to volunteering abroad you have a choice, we just want to help you make an informed one. We hope this has been helpful and if you have any questions about anything we've mentioned, or anything we haven't, you can always contact us in the office on info@slv.global.

Lee M