As part of our mission to support communities throughout the world, we are committed to ensuring the safety of the locals where our volunteers serve. We have created three layers of protection to protect the communities where we operate in.
“I chose to volunteer with UBELONG because I felt that the organization cares about its relationships with projects and volunteers. UBELONG cares about their local teams and by working in a custom based matter, projects are specifically chosen based on the need of the particular environment. Projects are granted the best volunteers, and volunteers are placed in welcoming and inspiring settings to work in as well. ” -Karen Macatumbas, UBELONG Costa Rica Volunteer from Canada – read her interview here.
1: Diligent screening
The first step to joining a UBELONG program is to submit an application. Depending on the applicant and project being applied for, we may also ask applicants for a follow up interview on the phone and/or Skype.
In the application we ask detailed questions about the applicant’s background, experience and motivations to volunteer with UBELONG. We want to get to know each of our volunteers. Each application is reviewed independently by at least two people on our team: one in our corporate offices in the United States or Europe, and one in the country where the person is applying.
Our goal is that each volunteer who travels with UBELONG is the right fit for the project he or she is applying for. Unlike the self-proclaimed “biggest” volunteer trip organizations, some of which are just money driven companies backed by private equity firms, we do not blanket accept everybody into our programs and then drop volunteers in the field with no real use for them.
In getting to know each person via our application process, we are better able to forecast if they will positively contribute to the communities we support.
Additionally, we want to make sure that each person is the right fit for the project he or she is applying for – you will not have a good volunteer experience if you’re in a project that does not match your interests and goals.
2: Mandatory police background checks
When UBELONG launched in 2010, most of the existing volunteer trip organizations did not require police background checks from their volunteers. UBELONG, as pioneers disrupting how people volunteer abroad, went against the status quo and made it a requirement for our volunteers. Today, most organizations offering volunteer trips have followed our lead and require police background checks from their participants.
Every person 18 years or older who joins a UBELONG Volunteer trip must provide us with a police background check that is no older than 1 year old. For residents of the United States and Canada, as well as most residents of Europe, we require that the check be done through one of our trusted partners, all of whom are leading US-based background check providers.
The checks include criminal and residency checks. They are among the most comprehensive background checks available. If we uncover issues that may put the communities we work in at risk, then we will not allow that individual to become a UBELONG Volunteer.
For minors under 18 years old we do not require police background checks. This is because in the United States, where UBELONG is based, police background checks for minors are difficult to obtain and are legally permitted to only provide a very limited amount of information. However, all minors travelling with UBELONG must be supervised by an adult, for example a parent or high school teacher. Adult supervision is an additional layer of protection that we have to ensure that the minors who join us are fit to work in the communities we operate in.
“It was inspiring to see people from all over the world working with the local community to preserve the Ecuadorean rain forest.”Brett Moody, UBELONG Ecuador Volunteer from the United States – read his interview here.
3: Code of Conduct
Upon being accepted into a UBELONG program, every person must review and sign the UBELONG Code of Conduct. It is an extensive document that covers multiple areas, including:
- The volunteer mindset: UBELONG Volunteers are not tourists or “voluntourists.” UBELONG Volunteers expect to serve, tourists expect to be served. We expect our volunteers to be open, flexible and proactive – these are fundamental characteristics of a good international volunteer.
- Dress appropriately: We expect our volunteers to dress in accordance with the local culture. This is especially important in conservative countries where dress that would be considered normal in Western countries is viewed negatively.
- Alcohol: While we are not babysitters, we expect people who travel with UBELONG to use good judgement in consuming alcohol during their trip with us. Alcohol is often a catalyst for trouble. We suggest that people refrain from consuming alcohol. And, if they still choose to consume alcohol, then it cannot be at the volunteer project and/or accommodations.
- Drugs: We prohibit our volunteers from using illegal drugs during their trip with us. If we uncover such use we will immediately ask the person to leave the UBELONG program. We have zero tolerance for drug use.
Additionally, our Code of Conduct specifically mentions interacting with local children, for example:
- Volunteers must understand the power balance between an adult and child and avoid taking any advantage that this may provide.
- We instruct volunteers not to place themself in a vulnerable position with a child, such as being alone with a single child or meeting a single child in a non-central or non-public location.
- If a volunteer hears about, witnesses or suspects any behavior that is inappropriate, whether amongst children, between children and adults or anything else, they must let us know.