Volunteer abroad with IVHQ

International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

About

IVHQ is the world’s most trusted and affordable volunteer abroad organization, offering the largest range of safe and impactful volunteer programs in 50+ destinations.

Over 100,000 travelers have volunteered abroad with IVHQ over the past 12 years, making IVHQ the world’s most experienced volunteer travel organization with the best safety record.

With programs ranging from 1 week to 24 weeks, it's easy to customize a program to fit your schedule and volunteering goals.

Programs are available in these destinations: Bali, Costa Rica, South Africa, Greece, India, Portugal, Peru, Fiji, Nepal, Peru, Jamaica, Madagascar, Spain, Australia, Croatia, Jordan, Belize, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Italy, Tanzania, Cambodia, Victoria Falls, Laos, New Zealand, Belgium, Morocco, Brazil, China, Ghana, Zambia, Ecuador, Uganda, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Thailand.

Explore the programs below and visit the IVHQ website for more information.

Founded
2007
Headquarters

99 Devon Street
West New Plymouth 4310
New Zealand

Reviews

Default avatar
Sharon
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This was truly a life enhancing experience and I was not expecting to gain such valuable insights and learning from this program.
IVHQ was professional and supportive and worked in perfect tandem with their local representatives of Green Lion. They really lived up to their promises in regards to food, accommodation, location and of course the program content itself. The work gave me a sense of purpose and achievement while allowing me the opportunity to really see firsthand local culture and the way of life In that area .... This is an excellent way of traveling, to see parts of the world not often explored by modern tourism, and done in a more responsible and sustainable manner. It gives the opportunity to give something back in exchange for some wonderful memories. I would highly recommend this volunteer  program .... 
It's easy to make new friends, especially if you take the orientation week, you get to know people better and spend time together. At the weekends there are plenty of trips to do, to explore the island and try local experience. The immediate locals are very warm and inviting and will let you get involved in what ever is happening in the village, for example we went to the local volley ball finals which was great fun and taken very seriously by the fans!!
If you are open to taking opportunities that arrive then you will have a rich and fulfilling time here!!!

What was your funniest moment?
Taking part in a scavenger hunt arrange by the other volunteers
Default avatar
Mae
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I’m a first-time volunteer to a foreign country and naturally, I was very anxious and nervous to do something that I don’t know. But, from the time I decided to go through with the program, to the requirements and all preparations given, to meeting the local Romanian team, to experiencing the work I had to do for my placement and up until the time I had to leave...I was only made to feel cared for and safe the entire time, by every single person involved with IVHQ and the Care2Travel (local IVHQ team). I only had a week even, but it felt like a month because there was always something to do and there was never a boring time. We even had the chance to meet and interact with the locals, which was such a nice experience, specially getting to know their history and culture. Plus, I had the opportunity to see one of the highest points in Romania in it’s beautiful autumn weather! I was certainly able to do two things I like all at the same time and in such an affordable price. With the fee I paid for, I had absolutely no problem with the accommodations, the supply of food and had so much more extra pocket money left for mini-tours and souvenirs to bring back home. All worth the decision to go and all worth the time spent each day being there. I did not expect how organized and professional the whole process was from start to finish and I have no doubts at all in recommending to volunteer thru IVHQ to anyone—specially choosing Romania. It is not a country that most people would even think of visiting but it surely was worth looking into the first time I saw it on the list of available programs I wanted. (ie, agriculture). Personally, it is the perfect place and the best team to take on a first-time volunteer. I can’t say that my short stay has allowed me to change the world with the help I did. But...it has given me a good taste of volunteering and it is why I am considering on doing this often—maybe then, I’ll get a chance to change the world a little bit more each time.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I only had a week to volunteer, so I would definitely choose to stay longer next time.
Default avatar
Cara
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

This program was wonderful. Starting from the pickup at the airport, everything was taken care of. This was my first volunteer trip with IVHQ and it will not be my last. I made so many friends in this program. I recommend to anyone looking for an affordable and impactful way to travel!

All of the staff that I encountered were wonderful and the homestay felt very safe and welcoming. I was conveniently located just a few blocks from the town square as well. As for excursions, the staff was more than willing to make recommendations. I ended up doing a day trip to Machu Picchu through America Inca Trail. As for my volunteer placement, our staff member showed us how to use the public bus system in order to get there and made sure we knew what was expected of us. This was a great time!

Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Cara, I'm so glad to hear you had a rewarding experience on our Peru - Cusco program. The effort you put into your contribution to the project is greatly appreciated. We can't wait to have you back again with IVHQ. ^Aydan - IVHQ Peru - Cusco Program Manager

Default avatar
Erica
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Working with the amazing Maximo Nivel staff and patients of Virgen del Socorro this past August has been such a wonderful and eye-opening experience for me. I am honored to have been a part of such a beneficial and rewarding program. I have made so many incredible and unforgettable memories and have many, many great stories to tell to my friends and family. The host family I stayed with was so sweet and caring, and the food was amazing! There were many options for those with dietary restrictions and allergies, and I had the opportunity to try many new traditional meals. I always felt safe, as long as I was with someone else, and was able to take advantage of the many social events and night programs offered through Maximo, such as salsa lessons! I look forward to returning in the near future!

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
I absolutely loved the fried plantains and huevos roncheros, as well as the adobada.
Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Erica, I'm so glad to hear that you had such a rewarding experience on our Costa Rica program. It's lovely to hear that you felt safe and got to take advantage of the salsa lessons! Thank you so much for the contribution and effort you put in to the project. It is greatly appreciated by the community. We look forward to having you volunteer with IVHQ again soon! ^ Kate - IVHQ Costa Rica Program Manager

Default avatar
SHENMENG
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Teaching in Bali, Lovina is a very unforgettable experience in my life. Lovina is really really beautiful! The children(so lovely~) in Bali really need us, they need more fresh and valuable things to get through their childhood. And in other part, you can have a chance to communicate with so many different people around the world through hiqv program. you will have a good time there! The food is good and clean and it's always enough for you if you want more. The local team members are really nice. They always try to make you feel comfortable, if you have any question, they will be there anytime to support you. bali lovina is a really dream place!

What was your funniest moment?
less regislation fee...Teaching in Bali, Lovina is an very unforgetble experience in my life. Lovina is really really beautiful! The children(so lovely~) in Bali really need us, they need more fresh and valuable things to get through their childhood. And in other part, you can have a chance to communicate with so many different people around the world throuh hiqv program. you will have a good time there! The food is good and clean and it's always enough for you if you want more. The local team members are really nice. They always try to make you feel comfortable, if you have any question, they will be there anytime to suport you. bali lovina is a really dream place!
Response from International Volunteer HQ - IVHQ

Hi Shenmeng, I'm so glad to hear that you had such a rewarding experience on our Bali - Lovina program. The contribution that you made to the community on the Teaching project is greatly appreciated. We look forward to having you volunteer with IVHQ again soon! ^ Lena - IVHQ Bali - Lovina Program Manager

Programs

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Alumni Interviews

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

Samantha Schofield

Samantha is an Australian living and working in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

After studying international relations and working in tertiary education management for many years, Samantha decided to travel and renew her passion for international relations by volunteering overseas. This eventuated in being offered paid work working for a development NGO in Cambodia!

Why did you choose this program?

The volunteer market can be overwhelming! I tried to find a placement that balanced cost with experience and ended up with IVHQ. I also received quality and quick responses to my inquiries from the IVHQ New Zealand based head office team prior to booking which was encouraging. I didn't know anyone who had volunteered with IVHQ, I just went with my gut!

NGO programs are not as widely available as childcare/teaching/animal care, so the choice of provider and destination was more limited. In addition to this, Cambodia appeared, and is, a little more off the beaten track than more popular programs of Thailand and Indonesia (for example). I also wanted to travel somewhere I had never been to.

I also considered program and personal impact. In comparison to other countries/programs offering NGO work, Cambodia's development needs are deep-rooted and extensive. I knew by choosing Cambodia I would be contributing to a country that truly needs volunteer support.

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

IVHQ offers flexibility in experience - you can be as independent as you wish or have your hand held through the entire process. It's up to you.

Prior to departure - I accepted assistance booking flights and went with the endorsed travel insurance. Lists for suggested packing needs, prior reading material, etc., were also provided. I particularly liked the online training offering. You organize all medical requirements on your own.

Once the program commenced - Airport pick up, orientation, accommodation, and meals are all provided. A staff member will even take you to work on your first day! Local staff is available for support as needed to assist with placement concerns or queries. Weekend and/or experiences outside of your program need to be organized independently, but you are welcome to ask the local team for help!

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

Do your homework on the NGO and socio-political landscape prior to arrival. Have an idea of the main issues/challenges, local and international players, and development strategies. You want to be able to offer your help from day 1 but getting your head around the context and situation takes time. The more you can prepare in advance the better, so you can make more of an impact. This is also applicable to other programs, i.e. the needs of children and/or child care centers in your placement country. Placement staff will appreciate you taking the time to learn and are more likely to offer you increased responsibilities, more quickly.

Another tip is trying to stay up to date with local affairs - taking 10 minutes each morning to read the paper goes a long way! You're likely to do this at your workplace at home, so why not here?!? Ask questions, show initiative and actively engage in your surroundings. It'll pay off!

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

Ultimately you get out what you put in! I typically worked Mon-Fri 9-5pm - adding up to an hour on each end for travel. However, it depends on the needs of the placement, at a certain time, and your individual capabilities. I worked on tasks including but not limited to; strategic development, funding proposals, internal policies, program development, and staff capacity training. My roommate also worked with an NGO but focused on media and online engagement tasks, matching her individual skill set and educational background.

When we had big projects due, the staff were in early and home late! This was not an expectation for me as a volunteer, but I appreciated the opportunity to learn and be involved in more meaningful experiences - and if they were offering, why not! On quieter days, if I wanted to leave early on a Friday afternoon to get a bus to the province this was not a problem.

I was predominantly in the office each day. However, I was also provided opportunities to visit the province/s to engage in program implementation, participate in staff events/meetings/training, and attend varied local NGO events/activities. One afternoon, my boss had double booked himself so he sent me to represent at an event at the US Ambassadors House!

Having said all this, there is no average day. It's incredibly difficult to compare one's experience to another volunteer's. How one engages with their environment, tasks, people etc. varies. But I'll say it again, you get out what you put in!

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

Traveling solo as a young woman has its challenges. More so, in countries with profound gender inequality and concerns for personal safety like Cambodia. I don’t say this to scare you… I live here now so it can’t be that bad! But it’s important to keep in mind that precautions one might take a travelling solo as a woman in Thailand or Vietnam, need heightening here. Local knowledge of English and the availability of wifi is also lower.

From my experience, there are no particularly dangerous spots or areas to avoid in Cambodia, and for the most part, locals are respectful. But it pays to be careful and you must always keep your wits about you. Getting to travel on weekends with other volunteers, if you choose, is one of the perks of going with a program. Having said this travelling independently is empowering and I never had any trouble. But Cambodia is not as ‘touristy’ as some of its more popular neighbors, so it’s best not to wander too far off the beaten track. Plan and be practical – if your bus arrives at 1am you should have transport to your guesthouse or equivalent sorted in advance. No loitering. User-friendly transport apps like GRAB and PassApp are only available in Phnom Penh.

Dressing modestly and acting more conservatively are easy adjustments. As is being mindful of gender dynamics/roles. You’ll catch on quick to how men and women behave and interact with each other – or more so, don’t interact with each other. As travelers/volunteers, we have an obligation to do our research before we arrive, to be respectful to the culture, and adjust behavior accordingly. But I know who I am and what I stand for, and there are things I won’t adjust to or accommodate for – like being hassled, harassed or treated poorly. The female voice isn’t very loud here in Cambodia, but that doesn’t mean you can’t and shouldn’t use yours when needed.

Being a smart, capable, and young western woman working in a conservative country has daily challenges. It’s obviously also hard for local women, hence the gender inequality! But navigating these socio-cultural barriers in Australia is no walk in the park either! The challenges are real but are not a deterrent to me volunteering and now living here. If anything, they spur my determination to stay here and keep contributing. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it!

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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Ben Brown

Job Title
Head of Sustainability and Risk
Ben Brown is Head of Sustainability and Risk at International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ). He oversees IVHQ’s approach to risk management across all programs globally and ensures the right steps are in place to keep volunteers safe. Ben also has responsibility for making sure all IVHQ programs are responsibly run and make a lasting positive impact in communities.

What position do you hold at IVHQ? What has been your career path so far?

I oversee risk and sustainability at IVHQ. We know that two of the most important things to our volunteers are feeling confident that they’ll be supported to stay safe, and being sure that they’ll be able to make a worthwhile contribution while abroad. We also know that having a focus on social and environmental sustainability is not only good for communities and the planet, but is also good for IVHQ long-term.

My career path so far has been in sustainability roles for telecommunications and media companies in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. I’ve been lucky to work on some really inspiring projects in my career and these have given me a good background in creating and running initiatives that make a real difference in communities and have a positive impact on the environment. IVHQ is a great place for me to expand this experience.

What about the future of the industry? How do you think volunteer abroad and international education will change over the next 10 years?

The concept of volunteering abroad has evolved quickly over the last 10 years and I expect it’ll change even faster over the next 10. Those people wanting to travel abroad and volunteer in a community no longer have to commit to a two year Peace Corps program and I’m proud of role that IVHQ has played in making volunteering much more affordable and accessible to travelers all over the world.

Over the next 10 years I predict we’ll see two big trends:

  • Community expectations will change. I think the communities that host volunteers will expect both more and less from volunteers in the future. Communities and projects that were typically very poorly supported by local states and other social structures historically appreciated whatever additional support volunteers were able to bring, but we’re already seeing this change. Community partners in the future will expect less in terms of the kind of transformative investments and skills exchange that may have been sought previously but they will expect more from volunteers in terms of their cultural awareness, responsible behavior and their ability to inject new ideas that stimulate innovation and enterprise. Communities in the future will see volunteers as sources of creativity, diverse ideas and youthful challenge, rather than as sources of hands-on labor.
  • Volunteer expectations will change. We’re already seeing volunteer expectations changing and they will continue to shift significantly over the next 10 years. We’ve always had a big focus on transparency in relation to our fees and we know that volunteers will continue to expect a greater level of openness about where and how a volunteer travel provider spends any money that they pay for the experience - and rightly so. I also think volunteers will expect more in terms of understanding the long-term impact that they are contributing to and again I think this is a good thing. The generation of travelers that will be most influential over the next 10 years are more socially and environmentally conscious than those before them and they’ll demand greater clarity around how their time abroad genuinely makes a long-term impact. Of course, this goes both ways and volunteer travel providers will have to get smarter about how they manage and shape volunteer expectations before they head abroad. We already actively support people to create expectations that help them to be responsible and valuable volunteers abroad. We do this through our pioneering online training tools.

The volunteer travel organizations who understand how to balance these shifting community and volunteer expectations properly will become the most preferred options for responsible travelers over the next 10 years.

Every member of the IVHQ team plays an important part of our commitment to being a certified B Corp, and I’m proud to be involved.

Describe a time when you felt especially proud to be part of the team.

I’ve been a part of the IVHQ team for around two years and I’ve always been proud to be involved. We’re an organization made up of young, ambitious people who are all motivated by enabling travelers to make a contribution to community projects, so it’s pretty easy to feel inspired at work!

But one time recently that I’ve felt especially proud to be a part of IVHQ was when we became a certified B Corporation. We’ve always measured our success differently so earning a B Corp certification in 2015 was recognition that our commitment to communities and environmental sustainability is making an impact. B Corps have to meet to rigorous standards and I was proud to find that many of these standards were already things that were important to IVHQ. For instance, we already measure and manage our environmental footprint, our service actively supports those in need, and we get stuck-in and contribute to the community where the IVHQ head office is based.

What is the best story you've heard from a return volunteer?

To me the best stories are always those that show the impact that a volunteer abroad experience can have on someone’s life direction. We constantly hear tales of former IVHQers who have changed their study or career direction dramatically as a result volunteering with us, and I love that because it means that we having an impact on people and helping them to think differently about what they want to do with their lives.

The best story I’ve heard from a returning volunteer was from a women who volunteered with IVHQ in Nepal back in 2011. Following her IVHQ experience she changed the direction of her life dramatically and founded a not-for-profit organisation which supports local health initiatives in Nepal. To date her organisation has invested more than US$70,000 into upskilling local Nepali people to deliver healthcare training in remote areas of the country, and her work is a good example of responsible community investment.

In my view there is nothing better than volunteering abroad for challenging your mindset and finding inspiration.

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