Our Promise – Your Promise
First and foremost, we are people. We want to do good for you, ourselves and our families, and the world. UBELONG is a reflection of our fundamental belief that our generation’s most critical challenges can be solved by people coming together across borders to share, learn and work together. The volunteer trips we offer accomplish exactly that.
Volunteering abroad, when done right, is not supposed to be easy.
You are travelling far from home to live in a place unlike the one where you come from. From language to culture, politics to religion, and food to even the type of toothpaste people use, everything is probably different. It’s not necessarily better or worst, but it’s definitely different.
Layer in your role as a volunteer and your challenge becomes even greater. You are neither a tourist kicking back on a beach nor one enjoying the gilded confines of a fancy hotel. You are a humanitarian worker going into a community that has a social or environmental need.
By definition, as a volunteer seeking to make a real impact you are walking into a context that faces challenges and has limited resources. Perhaps you’re teaching in an underprivileged school, serving in a clinic that is underfunded or working in an environmental project aiming to stop deforestation. Whatever the case, you’re being called upon to share your experiences, talent and energy to help a community solve problems. This is challenging. Difficult. The problems are real and all the world’s money, talk and fancy university degrees won’t fix things overnight.
However, if you have a mindset marked by kindness, humility and openness, you will be succesful. You will make an impact. You will make meaningful connections with locals. And we wouldn’t be surprised if you also come away from your volunteer trip having had a life-changing and unforgettable experience that changes you for the better.
So, as you consider volunteering abroad with UBELONG, here are our promises to you – and those we expect from you.
Our Promise to You
The opportunity to make an impact
As long as you take your volunteering seriously and approach your experience with an open and proactive mindset, in volunteering with UBELONG we will give you the opportunity to make a real impact on a community.
Your impact will be specific to you – every person experiences life differently. And while you will not “save the world,” as a UBELONG Volunteer you will be part of a large and wonderful community of individuals who, together, are making a significant positive global impact.
Since our launch in 2009, over 5,000 people have joined us. UBELONG Volunteers have collectively served over 4 million hours of service. Collectively, our volunteers have made a huge positive difference in the world.
There are three general areas where you can expect to make an impact:
- Project: You bring energy, experience and skills to share with the local community. Whether you are helping plant trees or sharing medical skills on a health project, you are making your mark.
- Cross-cultural sharing: When people come across borders to live and work together, it’s powerful. It breaks down barriers and dispels stereotypes. Whether you are connecting with a local or another UBELONG Volunteer from a different country, those relationships you create matter.
- Yourself: In travelling and volunteering, you will probably change for the better. You will pick up new skills, have new experiences and make new friends. How each of us grows is deeply personal to who we are, but be ready to change in ways you may never have imagined.
Authentic, genuine local relationships
In volunteering with UBELONG we will introduce you to members of our team, as well as people in the community. Depending on where you go and what you do, it may be a host family; students at a school where you are teaching; environmentalists on an environmental reserve; professionals in an NGO that you are a part of; etc.
Either way, in joining UBELONG you will have the opportunity to meet many locals in the community where you serve. It’s up to you to develop those connections and make friendships, but we’ll definitely put you in the position to do so.
Being part of a social organization
UBELONG is an organization based in the United States that is led by people who have devoted their careers to international development. Our mission is about bringing people together across borders to solve social and environmental challenges in the world. From our commitment to the communities we work in to our commitment to people like you who serve with us, our focus is on driving social change. Our volunteer trips are very affordable and the support we offer volunteers is rooted in best positioning them to be humanitarian workers who make a real impact.
We also believe that humanitarian impact should be driven from the bottom-up. People know what is best for their own communities. As such, our volunteer projects address issues that have been identified by local communities as opportunities to engage volunteers in meaningful action.
As much as we can tell you about ourselves though, the best way for you to understand what UBELONG is all about is meeting some of the thousands of people who have volunteered with us over the years. Read and watch their interviews in our news section, and check out their reviews.
UBELONG is our livelihood, and as we do not depend on government grants or private donations as a traditional 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States would, our only source of income are the fees people pay to travel with UBELONG. As such, when you are joining UBELONG you are not only supporting communities abroad through your volunteer work, but you are also helping us be able to continue our careers in the humanitarian space – and for that we’re extremely thankful 🙂
With that said, affordability is part of our social mission. We believe that volunteering abroad should be accessible to people of all backgrounds, and one of the ways we can allow that is by offering our volunteer trips at a very reasonable price. Our volunteer opportunities are incredibly affordable, especially when you consider the level of support we offer, as well as our commitment to providing our volunteers impactful and safe experiences.
When you join a UBELONG volunteer trip we support you before, during and after your trip. We continually check-in with you and offer assistance. We also work extremely closely with our teams on the ground. From large details like accommodations and project supervision to small ones like public transport and safety monitoring that you will probably never notice but that are still crucial, we work together to make sure volunteers feel safe, comfortable and ready to make a meaningful contribution.
Our pledge to reject “voluntourism” and “factory volunteering”
We believe voluntourism and factory volunteering are not in the best interest of the volunteers or local communities where they serve. Those types of volunteering are driven by corporations that put profits above all else. While they spend millions of dollars on slick websites and advertising, we have come to believe that their sole focus is to pump as many people as possible into local social projects that really do not need volunteers.
They claim to be the “biggest” volunteer trip organizations. Some boast about sending many thousands of people abroad. Fifty thousand, eighty thousand, a gazillion thousand… To us, these numbers are not reflective of responsible volunteering – pumping people into projects that do not need them is not the way to make a positive impact. Those numbers also make us wonder about the level of support those people receive. Many of these organizations are simply intermediaries who drop people into a country and then don’t interact with them again.
In our opinion, these corporations appear to have no regard for social responsibility and little interest in engaging locals in a collaborative, respectful manner. Some of these organizations are so money-driven that they are even owned by investment companies looking to make as much money as possible. They try to present themselves as “responsible travel” companies, but we believe they are really just opportunistic corporations looking solely for profit.
We at UBELONG are trying to perpetuate a grassroots movement to return international volunteering to its social and responsible roots. We believe volunteerism and tourism have nothing to do with one another. They require very different attitudes, and attempting to combine them creates disappointment for the volunteer and generates little positive impact for the local community. And, while tourism companies may speak of the “volunteer travel industry,” authentic volunteering has nothing to do with an industry. For UBELONG Volunteers, volunteering is about people coming together for positive change – there is nothing industrial about it.
Real reviews – and no shady deals
All the volunteer reviews on our website, as well as on our Facebook, Google and YouTube pages, are real. On all the reviews you can see the person’s name and where they volunteered and, in most cases, their picture.
Why do we bring this up? Well, unfortunately some of the bad actions who we talk about above have also taken to fake reviews and shady deals.
Some allegedly own their own review sites, which they try to pass on as independent. Others share business interests and/or ownership with aggregator sites that bring together volunteer travel opportunities into one site and then try to claim they present “real reviews.”
We believe all this is wrong, and as a social organization committed to accountability and transparency, we reject it.
Your Promise to Us
Embrace the challenge
When you’re volunteering abroad with UBELONG, there is no typical day or script to follow. Conditions can change quickly. You must be flexible and ready for anything. Some days will be frustrating and not what you expected.
However, the challenge of international volunteering is also what makes it so special. You will push yourself and step out of your comfort zone. You may develop relationships you would have never imagined. Or, in making an impact on those around you, find yourself growing immensely. And when it is all said and done, you may realize you gained even more from volunteering abroad than what you put in.
Volunteers are not tourists
Volunteers are not tourists. Volunteers expect to serve, tourists expect to be served. As a volunteer your role is to fit in your project and not the other way around. Think what you can do for your hosting community, not what it can do for you. We expect you to contribute wherever the need arises, even if it means being involved in an area you were not expecting to work in.
You must be open, flexible and proactive. That is the challenge, but also the beauty of becoming a UBELONG Volunteer – you will be out of your comfort zone, but don’t be surprised if in making an impact you yourself have the experience of a lifetime.
Engage your surroundings
If you really want to experience the local culture you need to live it. Do not worry about locals looking at you differently or how you sound when you speak the local language. The locals will generally be very understanding and eager to help you. So go ahead, engage the locals in conversation, let strange languages roll off of your tongue and try the local food.
At the same time, do not think of the local culture as better or worse than yours, just different. Let go of your preconceptions and maintain flexibility in your thinking. If you are quick to judge your attitude will keep you from experiencing the local culture to the fullest.
“I am happy to say I have made some amazing friends that I will keep in contact with, and I will definitely volunteer again with UBELONG, potentially in Vietnam, because it went too quickly! The experience was even better than I thought it could have been so I’m thankful I got to be a small part of it.” – Niamh Haran, UBELONG Vietnam volunteer from the United Kingdom – read her interview here.
Be kind, humble and friendly
Being friendly and positive are crucial characteristics of a good international volunteer. During, before and after your placement you will come across many people. Good social skills are key – you must be likeable and get along with people to succeed. The most successful volunteers are those who seek to build strong personal relationships with the people they work with. Actively seek opportunities to build trust and rapport, even if there are language barriers.