Volunteering time and expertise are great ways to support antislavery and anti-trafficking organizations. However, it’s essential to think through the implications of your participation in a particular organization, program and community. Before taking the plunge and heading off to volunteer in your city or someplace abroad, consider the following questions.
Take some time to reflect on what you truly want out of volunteering. Many times, it’s easy to make a commitment and complete tasks for an organization, but having clear goals and expectations can lead to a better and more impactful volunteer experience.
Be honest about what you’re ready to take on, and think of the following:
What is my motivation for volunteering?
What is my mindset?
Am I flexible, able to adapt to changing environments and open to cultural differences?
How much time am I willing to commit?
Are there limitations that I need to consider?
How do my knowledge base and skill set match up to antislavery and anti-trafficking initiatives?
What type of organization do I want to volunteer for, and what are my criteria for a good fit?
Do I want to help a non-profit, for-profit, non-governmental, faith-based, secular, local, national or international organization?
What would a good volunteer experience look like?
Organization Background Research
After honing down on your priorities and what you believe you can to contribute to an organization, start researching and narrowing down your list of potential organizations. Given the Internet and the vast amount of information available on social media, the initial vetting process can be overwhelming.
Focus on the following considerations:
Is the organization cross-listed or referred to in other antislavery and anti-trafficking directories or websites?
Does the organization list partners, and do those partners’ websites also list it as their partner?
Who funds the organization? Does it have any grants from governments or international organizations?
Are there financial reports and program outcomes available?
Is the information about what the organization claims to do consistent with what it actually does?
Are there reports questioning or criticizing the organization?
Are there news articles about the organization’s programs and active work?
General Questions for Programs at Home and Abroad
Once you’ve chosen organizations that are legally registered and active in the field, explore their websites’ FAQ sections to get some basic information about their volunteer opportunities. If you have more specific questions, reach out to their volunteer coordinator. Or, do a bit of digging on the Internet. Oftentimes, former volunteers – especially those that work abroad – blog or vlog about their experiences. If so, directly reach out to these people and see if they can tell you a bit more about what they went through!
What is the volunteer application timeline?
Are there other requirements (e.g., minimum age, education level, availability)?
Does the organization run background checks before accepting volunteers?
What types of direct and indirect volunteer opportunities are available?
Is there a minimum time commitment period? What are the day/hour commitment requirements?
Are there orientation and training sessions?
What’s a typical day like for volunteers?
What are specific volunteer responsibilities?
Who do volunteers report to, and what is the feedback process?
How do volunteers contribute to the organization’s mission, vision, objectives, outputs and impact?
What are ongoing support and training provisions for volunteers?
Can potential volunteers get in touch with former or current volunteers?
General Questions for Programs Abroad
Voluntourism (volunteer tourism) has gained popularity and notoriety in the past few years. Volunteering abroad can be a great experience, but voluntourism can often have a negative impact on the communities left behind by volunteers. In fact, some organizations have engaged in unethical practices and used the passion of antislavery and anti-trafficking volunteers to further exploit marginalized and vulnerable populations. By asking the following questions, however, you can avoid some of these organizations. Most importantly, you can be more mindful of how you think of and treat the people in the community you plan to volunteer in.
In general, organizations with long-term programs that focus on grassroots efforts, sustainability and empowering local communities to make decisions and be self-sufficient are safe bets. Additional topics to inquire about are as follows:
Does the organization have any eco and ethical volunteer/tourism policies? How are they enforced?
What is the schedule structure? How does the organization balance volunteer work, cross-cultural and recreation activities?
In what ways does the organization prepare or train the volunteer, especially with regards to trauma-informed care?
How does the organization review volunteer impact?
How long has the organization been working in and with the community and survivors?
Does the organization partner with local businesses/organizations and employ locals?
How does the organization treat the community and utilize its natural resources?
How does the organization’s programs reflect and respect political, social and economic realities in the country of operation?
How does the organization make sure that its projects don’t foster dependency or compromise the dignity of the community or the survivors?
What is the organization’s relationship with local officials and the state government?
Logistical Questions for Programs Abroad
If a volunteer opportunity or an organization seems to be a match for you, get ready to check off some logistics and continue with the application process. For local volunteers, these steps and requirements tend to be minimal. For volunteer programs abroad, however, the check list tends to be a bit longer.
How much time does it typically take a foreign volunteer to apply and then to start volunteering?
What program fees, insurance, travel, housing and meal costs, etc. do I have to pay the organization?
Do I need a visa?
How long can I stay in the country?
Are there other tourist or immigration fees that need to be paid?
What other paperwork needs to be filed?
How long will it take to process these applications and fees?
Do I need vaccinations?
What are pre-departure procedures? Will I receive preparation materials, resources or have a point of contact?
What are post-departure procedures? How will I get from the port of entry to my program assignment?
Who will be my point of contact during the duration of my volunteer assignment?
How are the local transportation, housing and working conditions?
Will Internet and phone signal coverage be consistent?
What are some safety and security procedures?
What’s the process for reporting any problems and concerns during the program?
Are there other cultural considerations that I should be mindful of (e.g., curfews, dress and manners)?
Cazzie Reyes is a Researcher for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's Anti-Trafficking Programs. She graduated from Bradley University with a Bachelor's degree in International Studies and a minor in Women's Studies.