We at SLV.Global love to receive feedback from our volunteers. Whether it's about what made their placement great, or how we can improve for the future, it's all incredibly useful and appreciated.
However, we have been made aware of a post, on the online forum ClinPsy.org, which contains numerous inaccuracies and untruths about our organisation. This post was written by someone who has not ever joined us on placement and who has no first-hand knowledge of what we do. Sadly, despite numerous appeals to the administrators to amend the blatant misinformation, it remains online.
Below we have outlined the various fallacies in the post and responded to them with the truth. We hope you take the time to read the following and we’re very happy to answer any questions you may have.
"I believe that their advertising is intentionally misleading, as it gives the impression of being a non-profit organisation run by volunteers, when their records with Companies House show that they are a profit-making tour operator and not a social enterprise, charity or non-profit organisation of any kind. They are not transparent about their finances, or even whether they receive payment for the labour provided by the volunteers."
Historically, and currently, we promote ourselves as mental health organisation working abroad, sharing our skills to communities in need. In 2017 we also opened the charity branch of our organisation, the SLV.Global Mental Health Fund, which provides funding to grassroots organisations supporting mental health services in the countries where we work. We are 100% transparent about our finances and where, and how, volunteer funds are spent and you can find that information all detailed here.
"They imply that the placements will be psychological and advantageous to psychology students/graduates when according to those who have volunteered in the past, they are in fact offering predominantly low level occupational therapy, speech therapy, and English teaching sessions, with minimal training, rather than anything informed by a qualified clinical psychologist. The titles such as "psychology manager" that they give to volunteers are not indicative of the skills or competencies such titles would imply in the UK."
All of our placements involve working with local practitioners, as the service we provide is to complement the medical treatment being provided to service users by bolstering the lack of other psychologically beneficial modalities (creative, cognitive, physical) to those residing in institutionalised care in Sri Lanka. Our training, which takes place in volunteers' first week, is conducted by local NGOs and mental health professionals. And, as evidenced in our Five Year Evaluation Report, our placements have been praised by both local, as well as, UK psychologists and psychiatrists.
Of course we do teach English on our placements and we are very proud to be contributing in this way. However, the goal of these projects is to not only improve service users' grasp of the English language but also to promote life skills. When working in with communities marginalised by poverty, seemingly simple, daily skills, which we take for granted, can often be overlooked, but should really be prioritised.
According to a report conducted by the WHO, the skills often neglected in the developing world, but intrinsically linked to mental health are; decision-making problem-solving creative and critical thinking effective communication interpersonal skills self-awareness coping with emotions and stress. So we're not only teaching, we're contributing to the prevention of future mental health concerns, which are prevalent in the populations we teach.
Finally, the role of "psychology manager" was once an administrative role, which involved helping to schedule volunteers for wards. This was clearly outlined in the duties of this role, which was given to a long term volunteer, as they managed the bulk of the admin on our placement at the time. This role no longer exists as it did before, as we have employed a team of 40 Sri Lankan nationals who are well qualified and financially compensated for their work. We now employ a “psychology supervisor” who is a Sri Lankan psychology graduate with extensive knowledge working with people with mental health concerns.
"It would appear that the goal of maximising placements takes priority over service users having any consistency or being able to build relationships with volunteers, as volunteers report that each person spends only a small amount of time in each project each week."
Volunteers take part in six weekly projects for the duration of their time on placement. When it comes to working at the psychiatric facilities we rotate volunteers on wards to mitigate any emotional attachments forming between volunteers and patients. It is our duty to safeguard both volunteers and patients against any undue distress and keep the focus on the activities the volunteers run, and not the individual volunteers themselves.
Unlike other organisations, we have volunteers, and local staff, working at projects year-round and we never set up our own projects, so the community is not dependant on our services in any way.
"Whilst people appear to have a lot of fun, to bond with other volunteers, and to enjoy Sri Lanka, this is a very expensive way to volunteer, and in my opinion does not provide psychological experience as worthwhile as volunteering on a mental health ward, or in a UK mental health charity."
Our projects are supervised by mental health professionals, who can be observed here, extolling the benefits of our placements to budding psychologists and mental health professionals. These professionals, both Sri Lankan and British, would argue that the experience gained in Sri Lanka is beneficial to students and recent graduates, as it hones a whole other skill set.
Working cross-culturally, working without language, role modelling, creating interactive sessions and working both independently and as a group are all key, desired skills volunteers gain, which have helped many previous volunteers to progress in their careers, which you can read about here.
"Whilst they seem very keen to get volunteers to pay a deposit as quickly as possible, and market very hard on social media, I believe that people should know about the organisation itself before they part with such large sums, or try to fundraise these fees. Bear in mind that homestays in that area cost under £5 per person per night (and probably less per head if they cram in up to 20 people in one home as is reported in slv reviews), so the £1000-£1900 of fees would appear to predominantly go to SLV themselves, and ultimately their single shareholder."
We ask that a placement acceptance fee is paid within a week of being accepted onto a placement. However, we are happy to give volunteers numerous extensions on this deadline providing there is ample room on their desired placement.
In response the fact that we are a profit-making company, this is correct. However, I fail to see how this detracts from the value of the work we do. We believe in compensating people appropriately for the work they do, which is why I'm so proud to say that 90% of our paid team in Sri Lanka are Sri Lankan nationals and the same in Indonesia and India. Without being able to properly support volunteers our work ceases to be ethical for the participants or the service users and populations in the countries where we work. And to support people adequately we need to pay staff to do so.
The figure presented about homestays is inaccurate and our homestay families provide an invaluable service. They are not just providing rooms, but they are opening their homes to volunteers, sharing their culture and their lives with them. They are not guesthouses, but a family home. Therefore our families are employees and are compensated appropriately. In addition to our homestay families we employ a team of 40 Sri Lankan nationals and various mental health consultants, which are there to provide support and training to our volunteers throughout their placements.
We are always open to feedback, positive or negative, from volunteers. All of it has been integral to our development as an organisation and we would not have come this far if we had not listened to balanced feedback throughout the years. However, the post in question was not written from a first-hand perspective and it is upsetting to think that people may read it and think it is in some way reflective of who we are, and what we do, when it is not.