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Our contribution to sustainability

In case of conventional travel (meaning travel that doesn't include any volunteer work or internship), measures taken by tour operators to achieve sustainability usually focus on the minimization of negative environmental and social impacts of the trip, for instance when choosing suppliers of accommodation and other local services, and local and global means of transportation. The aim is to consider the CO2 footprint and to include local providers of tourist services in a fair way. Travellers shouldn't "do harm" through their trip, w.g. by producing waste or polluting water etc. Since our inception we have a strong concern for these aspect, which we will now further improve with the introduction of our "Green & Social Travel Framework" in the summer of 2016, and with hiring our own biologist, Mrs. Celeste Botha from South Africa. We will publish details about the Green & Social Travel Framework soon on this website.
If volunteering is part of the trip, the expectations however should be much higher than just "not to do harm". In the ideal case, the trip should result in an improvement of the situation for everyone involved, which means it should also be of sustainable benefit to reach the aims of the (charitable) project that the volunteer joins.
To guarantee this is a very complex task, as it involves a large number of factors, which are often difficult to grasp and even more difficult to control.

How can we as a provider of travel that includes volunteering options try to reach sustainability?


1. Qualification of the participants

preparation ghanaA large difference to conventional travel lies in the active role of the participants, that as opposed to rather passive conventional travellers have a direct influece on whether their engagement achieves something positive for their project. Therefore they need to be "qualified".
Our point of view is that everyone who is serviously interested in doing volunteer work abroad, should have the chance to do so. This means, we don't exclude applicants if they don't have professional qualification (but some projects have minimum requirements - we will consult you and will find a suitable placement for you!), as we believe that professional qualification anyway only has a relatively small impact on the "use" of a volunteer's efforts in favour of the aims and goals of a charitable local organization. The reason for this is that the way how many tasks are approached considerably differs between varying cultural contexts. What works at home possibly doesn't work in a different cultural setting (please see the exciting lecture of Ernesto Sirolli about this). Even "experts" with many years of work experience fail with their projects when they perform them at other locations on the globe they are not familiar with.
It is necessary to change the way of thinking that an "expert" from the developed world provides his or her "knowledge" to someone "in need of help" or who is "inferior", as he or she is from a less developed country. Instead, the placement should be seen as an equal exchange and that the foreign volunteer through his or her placement can learn just as much, if not more, as he or she can offer. We try to make this attitude clear to our participants.
In this way, "volunteers" don't differ too much from "interns" for whom per definition it is clear that the main purpose of their activity is their own learning. In many organization (particularly from the subject areas of social work, education, environmental conservation) so-called "volunteers" are at the same projects alongside students who do an "internship", without considerable differences of tasks. At World Unite! the differentiate a "volunteer assignment" from an "internship" in that for internships which are for university credit, when choosing a placement, we make sure that the requirements of the university/college are fulfilled in regards to tasks and supervision. The supervision when done by a qualified staff member of the local organization gets typically remunerated, as it is a qualified work to supervise the student. For what reason should for instance an Indian psychologist or a Tanzanian social worker spend time, effort and use his or her skills to train a student from a developed, "rich" country for free if the student leaves after a short time? It would be more "sustainable" to train local students in the same way who would stay in the country and would be of benefit to the project and the country through the skills they acquire at the internship.
Some providers of placements abroad now give the excuse that their placements are primarily "internships" and that therefore the question about power (who is learning here rom whom?) does not need to be asked (even though such "internships" of other providers often don't even have any professional supervision, or the supervisor doesn't get remunerated, which means those organizations are just relabelling their "volunteering options" to "interships"). We believe that doing do is rather short-sighted as the post-colonial way of thinking that the developed world is superiour to the less developed countries still totally prevails in the heads of many people who call themselves "interns" rather than "volunteers".
Sensibilization about post-colonial ways of thinking has to be provided to ALL travellers that actively involve in local projects, no matter whether they are called volunteers, interns, voluntourists or otherwise. We try to do this through the preparation of our participants and of course we try to avoid any postcolonial ways of thinking on our website, in our marketing, and in our support services. You find an introduction about this aspect here.
Another important subject are intercultural skills. Few providers put so much effort into intercultural preparation as World Unite!. In our participant's log-in area you will find comprehensive preparation materials and videos, specifically made for you as a volunteer or intern at your host country.
Further aspects that we try to qualify our participants in include a responsible behaviour when dealing with vulnerable children and children's rights (please see also details about this below in 3.), and further questions about the "right" attitude.
This preparation is an essential part of the services you pay us for, which are substantial to the sustainability of your stay abroad.

2. Local Involvement

Jambiani Beach Festival Mandazi Catching CompetitionA massive difference between World Unite! and other providers lies in the fact that we have our own staff at most of the locations where we are active.
It is NOT the case that there is just a "sales and consultation team" sitting somewhere at an office in Europe, and maybe doing once per year (or even less frequently) a "local inspection", but our own team members are in daily touch with the projects. Our local teams are usually mixed international teams that always include locals. They have been working closely with most of our projects for many years and every day they get the feedback from our participants, from the staff of the projects, from the beneficiaries of the projects, and from further individuals that are at the same location or same country, working in the same or similar subject areas. They can therefore witness the development and the "reputation" of the projects. In many projects, staff members of the project were trained by us and prepared to work with foreign volunteers and interns.
Locally, we are not just a service provider bringing volunteers/interns into the projects, but we are a PART of the local communities. Some examples of our further local engagement include:
  • Jambiani Beach & Watersports Festival - Since 2015 we have been sponsoring the annual festival of Jambiani in the East of Zanzibar. The non-profit festival has the aim to promote local culture and sports. There are competitions at the beach of Jambiani in traditional Zanzibarian sports and international sports, just as music and local food. NGOs of the island are given a platform to provide workshops for the local population about topics such as HIV Awareness and coastal conservation. Our World Unite! volunteers are helping with the preparation and implementation of the festival and we fund transfers and accommodation for them during the days of the festival.
  • Turtle Release Day - Since 2013 we have been sponsoring the annual turtle release day of Nungwi, where marine turtles that have been rescued by the turtle sanctuary are released into the ocean. The large celebration at the beach of Nungwi also has the aim to communicate the need the coastal population about coastal conservation and endangered species. We have a close partnership with the Nungwi turlte sanctuary
  • HEM Orphanage in Karatu/Tanzania - we are paying the monthly salary of the matron who is running the centre which is home to 24 vulnerable children
  • Go for Zanzibar e.V. - since 2009 we have been cooperating with the non-profit society from Tübingen/Germany that is funding several  charitable projects in Zanzibar, by providing local logistics
  • Social Reality Tour Zanzibar - with the NGO "ZASO" (Zanzibar Aids Association & Support of Orphans) we have developed a tour where everyone interested can join a social worker and get insights into the living realities of disadvantaged groups of the population. The tour was meticulously developed taking into consideration ethical criteria. The revenue generated through the tour finances the social outreach program of the NGO.
  • Social Reality Tour Moshi - we have developed a similar tour in Moshi/Kilimanjaro with the NGOs "MANO" and "Good Hope", financially supporting the NGO's social outreach programs
  • Product display of "Good Hope" products at Aroma Coffee Shop in Moshi - we are stocking a sales window at a tourist café with products made by a women's group and are completely delivering the revenue to the women
  • Accepting donations and following up - We regularly get inquiries of individuals who want to donate directly to a local project. Those individuals often are not sure how much of the money they donate to organizations that are actively doing fundraising will reach the local project (most organizations spend 40-50% on administration and marketing). We forward such donations completely (100%) to the projects and we  also further assist with local logistics, for instance buying local goods (e.g. bunk beds for orphanage; construction of a chicken and pig farm, ...)
  • Labdoo – Cooperation with Labdoo e.V. for computer education in Zanzibar, Tanzania and India
  • Pack for a Purpose – Cooperation with local logistics in Israel, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Morocco
  • Zanzibar Outreach Program (ZOP) – free of charge, we are regularly bringing medical professionals to the medical outreach camps of ZOP, which are done once per week on the islands of Unguja and Pemba
  • Uzi Island Ecotourism – Operations of the website and answering inquiries/bookings for ecotourism tours done by a local initiative on Uzi Island/Zanzibar
  • Literacy India – Every participant for Literacy India funds the school education of a child for one year
  • Watoto Day/Urafiki Cup Moshi - Once per year we sponsor and logistically support Watato Day, a large festival for children, where children supported by various centres for street children and orphans meet and present an entertainment program including music, dance, game and theater, and compete in a football tournament (Urafiki Cup). This day resulted from the initiative of our volunteer Olaf Butterbrod.

3. Selection and design of the programs

bottles recyclingWe try to select projects whose aim is a true improvement of the circumstances rather than a maintenance of the status quo. Without doubt it is important to make sure that for instance orphans who are supported by a charitable organization will get food. However, if nothing is done to solve the reasons why these children become orphans, then misery is only administrated by social work.
Of course we do not work with projects which try to maintain "misery" as a "business model". Please read these texts about Animal Conservtion projects in South Africa or critical issues about orphanages. There are further areas where practices exist that should be rejected (e.g. elephant projects in India).
Placements with orphans and vulnerable children are often critizised or generally rejected, often in combination with criticism about short durations of placements. Unfortunately, the topic "orphanage placements" is often discussed in a very one-sided and from a psychological/pedagogic point of view, unprofessional way.
According to the concept of attachment theory (Bowlby), which is based on the assumption that humans have an innate necessity to establish relationships with fellow humans that are tight and characterized by intensive feelings, in order to create attachment, the quality and not so much the quantity of how to deal with the child is relevant, which means that the attachment figure must possess empathy and delicacy to be able to react to a child's needs in a suitable way, which allows children to attach in a secure way. All persons who play a stable role in the life of a child can be attachment figures. For children who grow up in an orphanage or foster family setting, those are primarily the permanent orphanage staff or the foster parents, if those staff are skilled enough to establish a positive bonding behaviour with the child. If they don't have these skills, just growing up at an orphanage or with a foster family can be harmful to the children, even without the involvement of volunteers.
In general, it can be said that the longer the placement of a volunteer is, the higher the probability is that one or several children start to get attached to the volunteer. The shorter the placement is, the more difficult the establishment of an attachment is, the easier the farewell is and the less "harm" can be done. Abandonment always leaves marks and in so far it is even more important that volunteers NEVER, regardless of the duration of their volunteer placement, become the PRIMARY REFERENCE PERSONS of the children. The way how projects deal with this question plays an important role.
For this reason we have developed guidelines about how to deal with children, which we communicate to all of our participants who spend time with children, and we look into the way how children are attached to permanent staff at the projects. Several of our team members are professionally qualified in psychology and pedagogy. Please read more about this here.
We don't agree on a general rejection of volunteer placements with vulnerable children, as the projects we work with are in real need of the manpower achieved through volunteers. A lack of staff has the result that it is not possible to provide individual support to many children, which is not beneficial for their positive development. If there is more staff, more can be done... it is the HOW that decides if a volunteer placement with vulnerable children is of benefit to the children or harmful...
Short time volunteer placements can also be seen as an alternative form of a monetary donations, and to give international exposure to the projects. Through our short time participants, the projects primarily benefit financially (we pay a minimum of 50 usd of project donation per participant directly to the project - see below). Furthermore, many participants decide to donate more or to support the project from abroad. We support such initiatives of former participant (but also initiatives of anyone who wants to get involved even without being our participant), by providing free logistic support on location. Many of our short-time participants also regularly return to "their" project or they decide to return at a later time, staying longer.
Additionally, when selecting local projects, we try to make sure that through the use of foreign volunteers no local jobs are being replaced.

4. Financial participation of the charitable organizations

project ranger in tsavo kenyaWe financially support the charitable organizations we work with and let them decide on the use of the contribution/donation.
We pay a contribution/donation of at least 50 USD per participant to the projects, that can make use of the amount depending on their own priorities. Other providers of volunteering/intenrship options do NOT pay anything to the projects, stating that "it is not sure how the money will be used". This is a colonial point of view, insinuating the local people in charge not to be able use money in an appropriate way or even to misuse it. If such providers have such little trust in the projects they work with, how can they seriously send young volunteers there?
Of course we remunerate all additional services that are provided by the local projects, such as supervising foreign interns (which means effort and time spent for a qualified work) in a fair way. We believe that fair business practices with the projects we work with are the base for a sustainable relationship with them. The same applies to further providers of services such as host families, drivers etc.
Please read here, why to pay for volunteering.
Information: Since October 2015, World Unite! is a founding member of an interest group of several providers of flexible volunteer work from the German-speaking countries, which has the aim to increase the quality and the sustainability of flexible volunteer work, and whose members want to oblige themselves to follow certain minimum standards.

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