Diving Into New Cultures & Customs with International Volunteer HQ!

International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) logoToday on the GoAbroad Blog, we feature an interview with the Executive Director of International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), Daniel Radcliffe. With over 4000 placements each year, IVHQ is an organization that provides volunteer travelers with quality and highly affordable volunteering placements in developing countries–and Daniel takes the time to share what makes IVHQ exceptional and all that it has to offer to travelers!

What makes volunteering with IVHQ a unique experience? 

IVHQ is based on the concept that volunteering abroad should be affordable, transparent and that it is positive for all stakeholders. Since we were established in 2007, we have received a lot of good press for the fact that we manage to make volunteering affordable and transparent, but I would like to think it is the quality of our programs that sets us apart from other organizations. We have a dedicated team of staff at IVHQ in New Zealand who work tirelessly to help prepare volunteers before they go, providing them with pre-departure information and answering any enquiries they may have.

“In the countries our volunteers travel to, we work with local organizations who genuinely care about the volunteers and the experience they have.”

They also understand the local community and ensure the volunteers are contributing to projects and people in country, making sure that they are having a positive affect. We are constantly reviewing our processes, what we are doing and how it is affecting all stakeholders in volunteering abroad to ensure the experience is top notch, the work is meaningful and it is providing assistance. This has meant we get good feedback not only from our volunteers, but importantly, the communities in which they are working. So…… very simply I’d like to think the quality of our programs and the fact that they focus on all stakeholders (from volunteers to local projects and communities) is what sets us apart from other organizations.

Any exciting and/or upcoming events, contests, etc. you’re eager to share with readers?

“We’ve got some big plans in 2012 with some new initiatives we can’t wait to get rolling.”

IVHQ in South Africa

IVHQ Participants in South Africa

We’re really happy with the programs we’re currently offering so instead of looking to open more projects in new countries, we’re looking to focus on our current programs and improve them as well as starting some new initiatives within IVHQ for our volunteers and the communities they’re working in. The big one is the IVHQ Awards which we hope to launch in June and will be an annual event. In the first year, there will be two categories (IVHQ Volunteer of the Year and IVHQ Volunteer Project of the Year).

There will be cash prizes of over US$15,000 with the winners receiving US$5,000 each. In the Volunteer of the Year category the volunteer can choose to receive the money (or a portion) and donate the rest to a specific project and in the Project of the Year category the money will go directly to the projects. We’ve had over 14,000 volunteers since we started in 2007 and all volunteers and projects will be eligible to enter. More details to come in June when we hope to open nominations!

A fear for many international volunteers is not knowing what exactly their money goes to. How does IVHQ’s business model set travelers minds at ease?

“IVHQ is based off an incredibly simple model which is all about transparency and affordability.”

Volunteers pay two fees –  a registration fee and a program fee. The registration fee (US$220) is a set fee that is paid to IVHQ and that is all we receive, yet it covers all of our costs within IVHQ (program marketing, administration costs, travel and IVHQ staff salaries). This fee remains the same regardless of if you are travelling with us for two weeks or 20 weeks.  The second fee is the program fee and this varies from country to country (depending on where you are travelling to) and your duration on the program. This fee covers all of the in country costs of your volunteer experience (airport pick up, accommodation, meals etc) and our local team also break this fee down for you at orientation. What this means is volunteers know where their fees are going and we’ve found it to be hugely reassuring for our volunteers, ultimately resulting in a better overall experience as they are more comfortable with the program.

What allows IVHQ to offer such affordable programs?

We try and keep costs to a minimum and there are no outrageous margins on anything we provide. From day one we’ve tried to provide a very good volunteer abroad experience for the volunteer at a low price which still allows for financial contributions from the fees to the programs they are working on. We work with local teams in country which helps to keep the cost of the programs down as well.

Finally, we’ve managed our growth really well which has meant costs have not got out of control. We observed a number of organizations seemed to increase their fees substantially once they grew and started getting larger number of volunteers – our registration fee is still the same as when we launched almost 5 years ago and most program fees have increased only in line with inflation in their respective countries. IVHQ is based on the concept of providing affordable volunteer programs and we work really hard to maintain this.

What is one of IVHQ’s most unique programs?

IVHQ Participants in Thailand

IVHQ Participants in Thailand

One of our most unique would have to be the KCC project which is part of the IVHQ Kenya Teaching program and is based in Naivasha, Kenya. It was a project started by a group of IVHQ volunteers working in Naivasha. They established a school based just outside of the KCC slum to provide a free education for children from the slum who otherwise could not go to school. The project which is still headed by former IVHQ volunteer Marcus Gregar-Rive (who now lives in Kenya) has been a huge success. The school provides local children with an education, employs local fathers for building, working with the crops and school security, while teachers at the school are mothers who have been trained to teach alongside volunteers from IVHQand also a runs a feeding program for the children.

What would you say is the best thing IVHQ participants will take away from a volunteer experience?

“Memories.”

As hard as we try, I find it is impossible to find words to describe what it is like to volunteer abroad and the experiences our volunteers will have. Three different volunteers could find themselves, teaching English to monks in Northern India, teaching children to surf in Cape Town or building homes in favelas in Rio de Janeiro, and while the experiences are equally amazing, they are completely different. The memories of what they have achieved, the people they have met and work they have done is something very important to each volunteer.

What is your advice to all potential volunteer participants?

“Come with an open mind. Volunteering abroad varies vastly depending on where you go but regardless of your destination, it will be much different to where you live now.”

While cultures, customs and norms may be different to your home country, it does not mean they are wrong or bad. As a visitor, it is important we respect the local customs and adjust to the local culture (not have the local culture adjust to us). Be prepared to work and show initiative in your placement.

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