For the past two months, I have happily updated my blog with information on Cambodia, my preparations, and personal thoughts on the trip and my life. I have poured my heart out on issues like my struggles with depression, finding myself, and deciding to volunteer abroad. Yet, I have utterly failed to mention anything about the organization I am volunteering abroad with, or why I made the decision to volunteer with them.
Since I aspire for my blog to be not just a source of entertainment and procrastination, but also helpful information for current or future travelers, I find it necessary to finally reveal the “man behind the curtain.” In this post you will find information about the organization I am traveling with, why I decided to travel with them, and other things that make them special.
I am volunteering abroad with an organization called IVHQ, or International Volunteering Head Quarters. Not the most exciting or unique name, but it gets the job done. IVHQ is a New Zealand based organization that was established in 2007. It is a leading volunteer abroad organization that practices and raises awareness about responsible volunteering, and provides volunteers with a wide selection of projects across 30 different countries. IVHQ also strives to retain affordable placement fees to make volunteering abroad more accessible.
I first discovered IVHQ a few years ago when I contemplated doing an independent volunteer trip to Africa to earn credit towards my degree. Initially drawn in by their low fees, I was amazed at how affordable volunteering abroad could be; especially in comparison to study or internship abroad programs done through my university. IVHQ’s program fee includes accomodation, meals, online responsible volunteer training, 24/7 access to an in country support team and expert, and an initial volunteer orientation among other things. With fees as low as $180 for one week, it seemed like an incredible, and affordable, opportunity. While I did not end up volunteering in Africa with them, as I went to Scotland instead, they were the first organization I thought of when I decided to volunteer abroad about two months ago.
Another thing that primarily drew me in, was its variety and flexibility of locations of programs. IVHQ has projects in Central and South America, Africa, New Zealand, Europe, Asia, and more! A volunteer can do anything from teach English, to volunteer at an Elephant sanctuary. And, volunteers do not have to limit themselves to one project. While IVHQ encourages selecting one project if you are there for a short time, it does allow you to change projects during your stay if you either do not like yours, or specified in your application that you would really like to do more than one. This is something I really appreciated, as in my own case I am volunteering on two projects due to the extensive amount of time I will be in the country.
When I started looking into IVHQ again in December after deciding to volunteer abroad, I dug deeper to discover more about this organization and find out if I really wanted to volunteer abroad through them. The first thing I did was check the reviews, not just on their website but everywhere I could find. I found hundreds of reviews, increasing my confidence in the legitimacy of the organization. IVHQ is one of the most popular volunteer abroad organizations, having sent over 62,000 people abroad since 2007. I found mostly positive reviews from people attesting to the responsibility of the organization, the kindness and helpfulness of the staff, and how much they loved their experiences. The negative reviews I found spoke about how IVHQ was not always organized, or they felt their safety in country was not always the best, and I took this to heart, noting that I would have to do my best to research the place I was going to in order to better prepare myself. Overall, I felt the positives outweighed the negatives.
I also began emailing with volunteer program consultant. The consultant answered all of my questions promptly and in detail. I always felt listened to and like I was getting not just good information, but excellent customer service. The only thing negative thing I have to say is that the consultant was not able to provide me with contact information for previous volunteers, however she did direct me to a Facebook group where I could connect myself. After lots of emails and hard thinking, I finally felt confident in applying, yes applying to volunteer with them.
The application process was very simple. I filled out a basic application with my information and then a paragraph on why I wanted to volunteer and what made me qualified to do so. I spent a few hours on the application, but it could definitely be completed faster depending on how much detail and effort put into it. IVHQ estimated the application to take fifteen minutes, so I suppose not everyone writes the equivalent of a personal statement on theirs like I did.
After filling out the application, I was contacted a few days later by the program coordinator for Cambodia congratulating me on my acceptance. I then received more information about the program, and gained access to another volunteer portal with a checklist of things to do before I left for Cambodia. These included things like completing the online volunteer training, submitting a criminal background check, updating my flight and travel insurance details, and paying the program fees. Throughout the process of completing the checklist, I asked questions to my program coordinator who was just as helpful as my previous point of contact. I was also introduced to the coordinator for the local team in Cambodia, who was also informative, kind, and helpful.
My experience with IVHQ so far has been exceptional, and makes me feel extremely confident and comfortable in my decision to volunteer abroad. Not only do I feel like my money was well spent and that I will be well looked after, but I feel like I will get the chance to embark on an incredible journey with like minded people. The sheer amount and diversity of people that volunteer with IVHQ is so exciting to me. People from the United States, Australia, UK, New Zealand, Singapore, and so many other places have volunteered with them before, and I am looking forward to being part of such an international group of people.
P.S. If you, dear reader, have any questions about IVHQ please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org