Volunteering: how to keep on giving

Want to launch a charity? Or a campaign? Wanderlust Editor, Dan Linstead, finds ways to extend the volunteer vibe

8 mins

When Penelope Worsley’s son Richard died in a car accident at the age of 24, she remembered what he had told her a few years earlier, after volunteering for six months with Karen hilltribes in northern Thailand: “Please – I hope you’ll help these people one day.” His death prompted her to set up the Karen Hilltribes Trust, a charity sending volunteers to help build for, interact with and teach the villagers, which has raised £2 million in a decade.

For many overseas volunteers like Richard and Penelope, returning home is not the end of their involvement with a cause, but the beginning. The bags may be unpacked, but the issues and people encountered remain vivid. You still want to help. So how do you keep the momentum going?

Setting up your own charity is perhaps the most dramatic option. Penelope spent two years discussing the Karen’s issues with local groups and NGOs before deciding to go ahead. “I felt the existing work being done with the Karen was not engaging enough: I passionately believed in what volunteers could bring to the region, and that by having a really immersive cultural experience, living with the Karen, they could help them to build a better future.”

But running a charity is a major – potentially lifelong – undertaking, and in any case, among the UK’s 190,000 registered charities there may well be one tackling the issues you care about. Fundraising for them – or for a specific local project where you’ve volunteered – may be a better approach, and the more creative the better. Tessa Mills raised £1,000 for a Darjeeling school where she’d taught by throwing a fundraising party; Jean Eaton sold her late husband’s classic car to fund toilet blocks in a South African care centre.

You may also be able to continue giving practical help or advice from home. People and Places volunteer Nigel Pegler introduced time-saving bicycles to a remote South African village last year, and now briefs outbound volunteers on the project. Retired journalist Peter Unsworth helped Nepalese students create their first ever newsletter, and now assists with editing and publishing remotely from the UK. (For more ways to offer your time and skills over the internet, visit www.onlinevolunteering.org.)

Support a worthy campaign


If you’ve got fired up by an overseas cause, you could follow in Joanna Lumley’s footsteps and campaign for it. Participants in the government-funded youth volunteering programme Platform2 have returned from the developing world to raise awareness of climate change and work on community projects; 19-year-old Jazz Sakari even used his hour on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square to tell passers-by about the exploitation he’d witnessed in India.

Finally, of course, you could donate. The trick here is finding a reliable, low-overhead channel for your money. Many tour companies have foundations, but in many cases money will be lost on administration. TravelPledge is a new charity partnering with operators to channel your money (plus Gift Aid) to local projects – it’s currently small-scale but has huge potential. Other websites linking donors to good causes worldwide include www.thebiggive.org.uk and www.globalgiving.co.uk.

We blogged for Uganda


Who: Dr Grania Brigden, 32, and husband Dan, 33

What we did: Volunteered for 14 months in Uganda with VSO – and continued fundraising in the UK

“Before we got married, Dan and I spent over a year in Kampala – I was working at the international hospital introducing a low-cost testing programme for tuberculosis; Dan’s a technical author and continued working remotely for his employer in the UK.

We set up a blog (www.flipsidecoin.co.uk) so that friends and family could keep up if they wanted to, but didn’t have it rammed down their throats. Since returning, we’ve turned the blog into a £10 book and sold 75 copies for charity, helped organise fundraising events at a local school, and worked with a UK charity raising funds for the hospital. I’m taking study leave from work to go back next year to check on progress.”

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