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IFRE Volunteers Abroad

About

IFRE Volunteers, a leading U.S. volunteer abroad organization, specializes in ongoing, year-round projects available from 1 week to 12 weeks in 20 countries throughout Asia, Africa and Latin America. Wherever you choose to go, your IFRE volunteer experience will start with a one-week language and cultural immersion program providing you with an in-depth understanding of the local culture, basic language skills, regional issues and local customs. IFRE, a 501(C) 3 non-profit organization, is committed to providing you with a meaningful volunteer abroad experience that will change your life.

Founded
2006

Reviews

Default avatar
Sean
4/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Kathmandu RCDP International Photojournalism

My time in Kathmandu within the photojournalism volunteer placement was a fulfilling experience. My instructor, Ram, had detailed knowledge of photography and the city’s culture. All coordinators were accommodating and helpful making for a great support group. I highly recommend for those looking to embark on international experience as Nepal is an exciting and welcoming country for tourists. There are other volunteer options available which I’m sure are just as impactful, however, I’m partial to the photojournalism placement as it allows for travel access to city’s main attractions and newly equipped photography skills for which to store lasting memories!

Pros
  • New skills and experience
  • Accommodations and 3 meals/day
  • Building relationships and learning of culture
Cons
  • Accommodations are very basic
Default avatar
Nael
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing experience

I came here to explore Buddhism and basic living to train the mind and expand my knowledge of life. I was not disappointed. No Western curriculum could ever teach me what the Buddhist monks have made me realise. Due to the lack of basic luxury, hygiene and some forms of comfort you are forced to appreciate the small things in life, which I guarantee, you will do after this trip. Pratima (my guide in this adventure) was very helpful and reachable throughout the whole experience, as we’re the monks.

Pros
  • Different world, different views
  • Very cheap
  • Breathtaking sceneries
Cons
  • Poor hygiene
  • No luxury
Default avatar
Enrico
4/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Nice experience in the mesmerizing Perù

I spent 4 weeks volunteering at the hogar "Juana de Aza". I had the opportunity to get to know the incredible and sad stories of the young mothers living and working there. During the day I usually spent my time playing with the kids and taking care of the babies. I was responsible, together with another girl working there, of 11 kids, ranging in age from 5-6 months to 5 years old. I have to admit it wasn't always easy dealing with these kids, but in the end these young, energetic and curious human beings gave me a lot more compared to what I gave them, and for this reason I will always remember them and this incredible experience.
The support from the organization was helpful at the beginning, with their in-country coordinator being always there in case of necessity. The families that collaborate with IFRE were super nice and made me feel like at was at home.
Sadly there were not other volunteers while I was there, and even if there were, probably the opportunities to interact with them are not really facilitated by the way the program is organized. Of course I had the opportunity to meet other people during my freetime, but I feel the need to say that this volunteering program does not facilitate social interactions, so be prepared for that.
Also it is better to know some Spanish to better interact with the kids and the moms. This is not mandatory of course.
The cost of the program are overall okay, not cheap imo, but the quality of the accommodation is high.

Pros
  • Volunteering experience
  • Accommodation in local families
  • Position - Cusco and its surroundings
Cons
  • Poor social interactions
  • Price (could be lower)
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Susanne
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

Absolutely amazing experience

As a medical doctor, the volunteer organization IFRE placed me at the Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh for 2 weeks.

The application was not difficult, and I got a placement very short term (2 weeks) as I had been hoping.

Upon arrival, everybody got an introduction concerning the history of the country and local habits. Some even got an organized tour of Phnom Penh. The local office of IFRE was available almost night and day, every problem was solved promptly and very friendly. They even organized private trips for the volunteers on the weekends on request.

I stayed at a rather basic hostel, together with 8 other volunteers, mostly much younger than me. While the other volunteers were working at schools and orphanages, I was the only doctor.
That hostel already was quite an experience. No A/C. No pool or outdoor sitting area. No toilet paper (you are told to bring your own). The shower is very basic, too. Constant noise as the roads are very busy.

Of the three meals that are prepared for you every day, they wrap up your lunch nicely so you can eat it at the hospital.

I was introduced on the plastic surgery ward and immediately started working.

The work is pretty much organized the same way as in Germany ( and probably other western countries, too). Ward round, then surgery, once a week you work at the outpatient department.

The kind of medical conditions though are really not what I was used to. The Soviet Friendship Hospital, built in the early 1960s, was at some point the largest hospital South-Eastern Asia. It is built in a way that the wards are long balconies and the rooms for the patients are connected to this long balcony and have small openings in the wall facing the central courtyard. The rooms are cooled that way by the little bit of wind that is blowing. A good system, if flocks of birds would not fly in and out all day long.

My ward had 25 rooms with 4 patients each. And the amazing thing: healthcare is absolutely free.
Only the poorest of the poorest go there. The hygienic conditions are not optimal, of course. The materials rather old or cheap.
But staff does an awesome job there!

As most of the patients come from the really poor parts of town or remote vilages where there is literally no healthcare (and they couldn't afford it anyway), they show up with very advanced conditions. Bone tumors the size of oranges, having penetrated the skin weeks ago, infected all over. Weeks old open fractures. Chronic wounds. 10 huge lymph nodes on each side of the neck.

On my third day they started to let me do most of the surgery. The Cambodian doctors and students assisted me and asked many, many questions. It would have come in handy if I spoke French. But some of the colleagues spoke some English, and most of the reports were written in Roman letters, so communication worked quite well considering.

The workload sometimes was massive. The smell was unbelievable. But all in all it was absolutely enjoyable to work in such a motivated and interested environment.
Prepare though to struggle with the fact that the patients get absolutely no after treatment but a few antibiotic pills. Chemotherapy or Physiotherapy are not available. It must be hard for the doctors here to know, which ever effort they make, the outcome will be less than ideal. Most of the colleagues I met were at least partially trained in France or Korea.

At the end of the work day one passes the patients' relatives who live, wash and cook on the hospital premises, and take a TukTuk ( 2 USD) back to the hostel to have dinner with he other volunteers. The food is amazing, by the way.

You have to be flexible of course. Things don’t go your way all the time. You sometimes have to search all operating rooms on all levels of the hospital for scrubs. There will be no change of scrubs, and after the first surgery everything is wet with sweat. The sterile gloves have to be handled with care, the material tends to tear. You cannot do the same surgery twice back to back, they have each set of instruments just once.

Bring a white gown or 2, and blue T-Shirts, as well as toe covering shoes. You will need the shoes in the operating room, as special shoes are not provided. Bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer, as it is not always available. Bring a lock so you can lock in your belongings at the hospital while you work.

So, this exoerience is not cheap, but very well organized and vey rewarding and interesting.
It was my first time volunteering abroad, and I can absolutely recommend it!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Try to get away for the weekends, see the beautiful countryside of Cambodia and Angkor Wat.
Default avatar
Bob
5/5
Yes, I recommend this program

3 weeks teaching young monks in Kathmandu

My contact, Pratima, was well organized and helpful the whole time. Efficient and easy airport pick up. Orientation at the volunteer house. Got me a new sim card. Next over to my homestay which was with a very nice Grandad/Granddaughter pair. Then she helped with my first lessons and meeting the monks. Spending time with the kids was very fulfilling and I enjoyed it a lot. Everybody I met was helpful and cheerful. One day the main monk had some business across Kathmandu and invited me along and we spent the day, along with a couple of his friends who spoke very good English, in a historic area. Overall it was a great experience both with the kids and with some site seeing.

What was your funniest moment?
It was AFTER the program. I took the program seriously but just for fun I taught these young Buddhist monks the Vulcan Salute. The volunteer after I left was teaching them some gestures and I had told her what I did. Among other things she silently gave the Vulcan Salute. She told me most of the class came back with "Live long and prosper"!!!! So I know some amount of what I taught stuck.

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Alumni Interviews

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

Why did you choose this program?

I spent one month in Bali in 2018 and I fell in love with the exotic island of Gods and its wonderful people, hence I made a promise to myself and decided to go back a year after to give some of the kindness and helpfulness back to their community.

I have always been interested in teaching; however, I have never done it in a classroom before. Therefore, for me, the combination of traveling and volunteering with IFRE as an English teacher seemed to be a perfect opportunity.

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

During the process of my online application, everything went smoothly; I was given all the help and support that I needed.

The in-country coordinator Komang was more than just a support for us: he took us to a traditional Balinese wedding, showed us the most beautiful authentic parts of Bali and was there whenever we needed him. He was also really flexible and helpful when we wanted to change our accommodation or had any other questions.

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

My advice to other volunteers is to be really open-minded and take every opportunity you have to get involved in an authentic cultural experience. Nothing compares to the feeling of getting to know multiple different cultures, religions, people and their stories. It also truly is a wonderful thing to see how huge an impact you can make just by teaching English in a primary school.

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

We were teaching from Monday to Friday, three classes per day in a primary school in Bali. The entire school had one English teacher, Miss Surya, and we were assisting her from 9.30 until 12.30. The students (age 6-12) were really respectful, energetic and lovable, and all the teachers we met were very helpful and amazing.

We had breakfast and lunch cooked by a wonderful Balinese lady and had our meals nearby the school which was approximately 30 minutes from our accommodation and organized by the in-country coordinator, Komang. The program does have accommodation 5 minutes' walk from the school; however, I and my friend decided to stay somewhere else as that place suited us and our needs better.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was being alone in a far-away foreign country. Luckily, one of my friends joined me on this journey and that was a great help. However, the organization and their in-country coordinator in Bali do give you all the support and help that you need. Though, if you are planning to volunteer on your own, and you do not like being alone, this might not be the best option for you.

As IFRE is a smaller organization, they spread out the volunteers all over the island, hence do not really expect to meet with other volunteers.

What did you like the most during your stay?

The first five years are crucial for children’s cognitive development. During these early years and even after, children have the ability to pick up, process and understand languages much quicker.

That’s why I’m more than thankful I could be part of these wonderful, energetic and lovable Balinese children’s journey of learning English as a second language.