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Cuso International


We offer our volunteers a variety of opportunities where they can make a difference. We partner with hundreds of local organizations in 22 countries across Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and in Canada on today’s most important international development issues.

We give our volunteers comprehensive training pre-departure, in-country and post-departure, as well as financial support for a safe and healthy experience. We have professional support staff in each country to support the needs of our volunteers.

We work on today’s most important international development issues and have strong, long-term partnerships with local organizations around the world. Our focus is on people helping people, which allows our volunteers to create significant and lasting change. We have placed and supported more than 13,000 volunteers since 1961, earning us a solid reputation in Canada and around the world.

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A beautiful girl with strawberry blonde hair and purple glasses. It's Heather!
Yes, I recommend this program

Excellent support for professional volunteers

I did a 12-month placement with Cuso International in Laos, and it really was fantastic. I was especially impressed with the support from Cuso (stipend, apartment, healthcare, pre-departure training, in-country training). This is for skilled volunteers, so if you're looking to "just build a school" or "just be a body to teach English" this program isn't for you.
The selection process is super-thorough, and you'll have multiple interviews before you're called in for 5 days of pre-departure training. There's also a medical assessment you need to pass in order to be successfully selected.
Cuso provides housing with a minimum standard, but since this is an NGO don't be expecting a condo with a pool in a gated community - you'll be comfortable but you won't have luxurious digs.
Since Cuso partners with organizations on the ground, you'll essentially be an employee of Cuso, but you'll be working on a local initiative. Think of Cuso like a staffing company - for example a Cuso volunteer could be placed within an overseas Plan Canada project.
The medical support for volunteers is comprehensive, and my experience is that if you have any problems, Cuso will do whatever it can to make sure you're safe and healthy. No worries there.
The placement I was at gave me a chance to interact with Lao government office staff and adult students. The cultural experience was off the charts - I had no trouble making Lao friends and attended several weddings, a funeral, festivals, visited homes, played petang and soccer, and of course I went out to eat at tons of local restaurants.
When it comes to the Cuso in-country office staff, communication was sometimes difficult both culturally and efficiency-wise (Lao is VERY relaxed). Sometimes getting things done was much harder than it should have been, and sometimes the demands from the office were unreasonable.
But all in all it was fantastic, and I'd definitely consider another round of volunteering with Cuso.

What would you improve about this program?
Communication between head office and in-country offices definitely has room for improvement, as the situation on the ground can be very different from what is discussed in training. Speaking of training, it could be condensed to fewer days so it's less disruptive for professional career schedules. Measurement and reporting methods in place don't necessarily reflect the true contributions of volunteers.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Volunteers and local partners both benefit from knowledge exchanged during the volunteer's placement and afterwards.

My experience in Nigeria in 2013 was deeply fulfilling, as well as challenging and fascinating. I would recommend a Cuso International volunteer placement for the adventurous, humanitarian type of professional. Cuso provides extensive pre-departure training, guidance and travel support. The partner I worked with - Lady Mechanic Initiative - was a super person and leader. This volunteer experience was the best thing I ever did!

What would you improve about this program?
Provide more in-country liaison with head office.
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Yes, I recommend this program

An incredible opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way

Working to improve job seeking and creation services in the south of Lima, gave me the unique opportunity to understand the challenges youth face daily and to organize resources to make sure youth are well equipped to define and reach their goals.

What would you improve about this program?
To make sure that the volunteers understand the important commitment required for this kind of work to be successful and for the partner organization to better recognize the contribution of volunteers.


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Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Heather Sinclair


Why did you choose this program?

I chose Cuso International because of its reputation, and because it's a Canadian-based organization. When I researched Cuso I found that their support was second-to-none, with pre-departure training, healthcare coverage, housing, and an accessible Employee Assistance Program.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Cuso International is very supportive when it comes to volunteer compensation. It was up to me to schedule my pre-departure medical exams and vaccinations, but all costs were covered by Cuso. The five-day pre-departure training was paid, and they also paid for my parking for my Assessment Day (Cuso's group interview). Volunteers are provided a return flight to their placement country.

Once I arrived in-country, I had *another* medical assessment, was introduced to the Canadian government representative in Laos, and the staff helped me get my cell phone set up.

Housing was provided by Cuso, and it was comfortable, clean, safe, and very basic. I was housed in an apartment building with another Cuso volunteer which was really nice.

My Visa was arranged for me, and when I arrived at the airport it was ready and waiting for me. On my first day, Cuso staff brought me to my workplace to introduce me to my colleagues and the Deputy Director General of the institution I would be working for.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

For someone who's considering volunteering with Cuso, I would say don't raise your expectations too high. Some volunteers arrive and expect someone to hold their hand and show them everything and that's just not going to happen. Other volunteers aren't prepared for living on their own and don't have the life skills necessary to cook or clean for themselves. Really think about living without the comforts of home and how you would deal with that. Because that's what's going to happen.

When it comes to a work placement, often the position is a bit different from the file in the head office in Canada. Things are changing all the time, and volunteers need to be flexible about what they're asked to do in their placement. For example, you may have been hired to advise on irrigation projects, but when you arrive the project may have been postponed and you'll need to find something else to fill your time and help out.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Oh gosh, I don't think there is an average day, as it's different for every position! I will say that most positions are typically Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm. In my position, I had a fairly relaxed class schedule, and I used my free time to prepare for lessons. I could leave early some days, and come in later others.

Because the fridge in my apartment was half-size, I went grocery shopping almost every day after work. I loved going to the markets and getting fresh vegetables and BBQ meat for supper. I always went out for lunch, and there were lots of restaurants near my workplace. In the evenings I hung out with other volunteers, read a book, or did some copywriting.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear?

My biggest fear was that I wouldn't like the work I was going to do, and what I was going to wear (if you can believe it). I wasn't at all worried about the climate, the bugs, the food, or the safety. Once I arrived at my volunteer placement, I realized that there was a lot of flexibility in my job. This meant that I could make it into something I enjoyed, which was a lot of fun. Being a self-starter was really important.

When it came to what to wear, the solution was also simple - Cuso staff helped me buy some Lao sinhs (the traditional skirt in Laos) and then I bought a few on my own. Wearing a sinh at work every day was a bit like wearing a uniform, but it made getting ready in the morning really easy!

Write and answer your own question.

How Would You Have Prepared Differently?

While I was at my placement, I became a contact for prospective volunteers who had questions about volunteering for Cuso in Laos. When I was a prospective volunteer myself, I was offered the chance to get in contact with the current volunteers and I didn't take it. I wish I would have! It would have given me some insight into what to expect and what the job would be like.

If you're given the chance to talk to current volunteers - especially if you'll be their replacement - take it!