Staff Spotlight: Erin Sparks

Placement Manager

What position do you hold at PoD and why do you like working there?

Erin: Placement Manager of projects in Belize, South Africa and Thailand. I’ve worked at PoD for almost 5 years and really enjoy being able to support projects that I’ve hand-selected with passionate, enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers all year round to allow them to continue with their fantastic work.

Did you volunteer abroad? If so, where and what inspired you to go?

Erin: Yes, I volunteered for 10 weeks in South Africa before starting university, then for 3 weeks with PoD in Thailand between my first and second year of university and then for 5 weeks in South Africa and 3 weeks in Namibia after university. I then went on to become the volunteer coordinator at the project in South Africa for a year.

All of these projects were animal care and rescue projects and I’d always wanted to be able to combine my love of working with animals with my desire to travel. Volunteering was a perfect option for this and it’s also a great way for you to meet like-minded people and travel in a supported way.

What does the future hold for PoD - any exciting new programs to share?

Erin: Yes! I will be launching a marine conservation project in South Africa in 2015 which is very exciting. I visited the project and was lucky enough to see a whale shark on my first dive there, it’s a moment I’ll never forget!

As far as PoD as an organisation, we’re not looking to grow hugely as are in an ideal position currently to send around 700 volunteers away per year whilst supporting 40 amazing projects around the world and we want to continue to be an organisation which knows all of our volunteers by name and has personally visited all of the projects we work with.

How does your organization differ from other ones in the industry?

Erin: All PoD staff are previous volunteers so we know what it’s like, we know the challenges involved and honesty is at our core. We believe that by being honest about these challenges, we can send volunteers who are fully prepared and committed to the projects we work with which is great for the project and also means that the volunteer can overcome these challenges and have an amazing time doing truly worthwhile work.

What is one thing you would tell any future volunteer?

Erin: Do your research. Volunteering overseas is an amazing thing to do, you are giving up your time and money to help and therefore you should make sure that you do this in the most responsible way. Make sure you choose a project where there is a need for volunteers and choose an organisation whose ethics match your own and who can answer any questions you might have.

How do you think volunteer abroad will change over the next 10 years?

Erin: That’s a very interesting question, volunteering still seems to be growing and we are seeing this with more and more people each year wanting to give up their time to support our projects which we are incredibly grateful for. We hope to see this continue. In terms of changes, I think one of the main changes will be in destinations, there could well be some destinations that don’t currently appeal to volunteers or don’t have the infrastructure to support volunteers now but that could become very popular in the future.