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People and Places


Volunteering responsibly cannot and should not replace the traditional holiday. It will be emotionally exhausting and mentally challenging - but it can also be a profound and life-enhancing experience if you are well-prepared, well-matched with your host community and well-supported in your endeavors. So, we would ask you to take some time to explore our site thoroughly - find out about us and our partners and the unique way that we work together for local communities. Equally as important, think about why you want to volunteer, what you hope to gain and what you hope to give... your motivations are important too!


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Yes, I recommend this program

The volunteering student and researcher – positive experience from The Gambia

My name is Anke Winchenbach and I recently spent five weeks as a volunteer through People and Places in The Gambia. I had a fantastic experience and would like to share my positive volunteer story.

The project I was involved in still continues after my return to the UK and will hopefully continue for the years to come. I just finished a MA in Tourism, Environment and Development and developed an interest in Responsible Tourism and pro-poor tourism during my studies. Inevitably, the names Harold Goodwin and Adama Bah occurred frequently when I started considering responsible tourism to be my dissertation topic, so which volunteer company could have been more suitable than p&p, which are strongly connected to both of them. My dissertation topic partly shaped based on local needs, which was “monitoring the impact of tourism training which ITTOG (Institute for Travel and Tourism in The Gambia) provided for ASSET (Association of Small Scale Enterprises in Tourism) members”. Through my volunteer placement, ASSET received an assessment of the impact training had on rural tourism businesses in The Gambia.

Without the amazing and ongoing support of local p&p partners and the ambitious, driven, friendly and open ITTOG students and ASSET members, I would certainly not have been able to conduct my in-depth research. The fact that my skills as a tourism professional and researcher matched local needs made my volunteer placement hopefully a win-win situation.

Pre departure preparation
The thorough screening process felt daunting at times, but completely made sense and hopefully ensures that volunteers get placed where their skills are valued and where support is needed.

Speaking to previous volunteers has been extremely useful and provided a fantastic opportunity to hear first hand stories. I felt well prepared and part of a community before I even went.

I appreciated the fact that I was asked before I arrived if I’m happy to travel upcountry in order to monitor the training impact in more remote areas of the country. This way, I had time to familiarise myself with various destinations and the challenges of travelling in rural Gambia and could adjust my packing accordingly (e.g. torch, mosquito net, medicine – all which is much less of an issue when staying in more urban areas).

During the placement
My orientation after arrival was interesting and went smoothly and I felt that all my questions I had at that time got answered. From the very beginning, I felt that I would have great support from the local partners, which proofed to be true.
Everybody was approachable, fun and challenged me intellectually throughout my stay by sharing their thoughts and being honest and reflective about issues I faced during my research. We had fruitful discussions, listened to and questioned each other and I feel everybody involved learned a lot.

My experience and work
Volunteering with p&p was probably one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I am almost certain that I would never have been able to get access to the interviewees and documents I was able to through the local support I received. Also, working, travelling and socialising mainly with locals gave me a good insight into the local culture (and cuisine!) and helped me to better understand issues regarding Responsible Tourism practices in The Gambia and beyond.

For the first few days, I met with the head of ITTOG and ITTOG teachers and Board members to establish what they expect from me and what I thought would be the best way to monitor the impact their training had. As our communication was open and honest, it was easy to agree on how to proceed so the project would be beneficial for everybody involved.

ITTOG regularly provides training on various topics such as sustainable tourism, customer service, food & hygiene, responsible tourism and tour guiding for ASSET members and other organisations. Due to a lack of financial and human resources, monitoring the training success usually stops at the post-training questionnaire. However, often issues arise at a later stage when trainees are trying to implement changes in their businesses or communities. As the overall aim of the trainings is to practice tourism in a more responsible and (also financially) sustainable manner, I was asked to visit previous trainees to uncover the main obstacles they are facing, how the training can be improved and what future trainings are needed.

The mode of transport to the sites wasn’t quite clear when I arrived, however, in the end we found an affordable yet comfortable way to travel by renting the car from a local hotel owner. This way, my concern (convenience, heat, travel time) using public transport was taken into account and the project agreed to use part of my volunteer money for renting the car. I think it is very important to make sure you as a volunteer are clear about your needs too in order to benefit the project. A tired, scared, sick or uncomfortable volunteer is unlikely to make a valuable contribution, so listen to your physical and mental needs and address them with your local partners immediately. I always felt my concerns were taken seriously and together we found the best way to keep focus on the overall aim of the volunteer placement, which ideally matches both party’s expectations.

This trip gave me the opportunity to hear, see and experience how local people understand responsible tourism and what factors influence the success of the training they had. Some individuals/ communities find it easier than others to implement what they learned and the research will hopefully help to find ways in how to improve the situation. The days spent in rural Gambia were the highlight of my placement, even though every single day of the five weeks seemed like a school day and I felt constantly challenged in my world views. Experiencing the challenges of tourism development and education in a developing country first-hand certainly contributed to my professional knowledge.

At ITTOG, I was given the opportunity to sit in classroom teachings to get a better idea of how teaching is done and what the level of students’ understanding of responsible tourism is. This has been a valuable experience and I fed back my observations to ITTOG teachers, who were open for my feedback. While spending time at ITTOG, I had the chance to chat to a lot of students and teachers in a more informal way, which also helped me learning more about which obstacles exist in regards of tourism education, employment and responsible tourism development in The Gambia. I further got the chance to lecture at ITTOG and held a Q&A session for some students who were about to finish their degrees and draw on my 20 years experience in the tourism industry.

During my placement, some volunteers got approached by various local people for supporting them financially or otherwise. Of course support is needed, but if you are aiming to help everybody who asks you for support, you will never get anything done and for sure disappoint people. In doubt, ask local people or p&p for their advice, they will help you to filter where support is needed. I would advise future volunteers to be very clear on what they can and can’t do and for whom, so there is little scope for disappointment and misunderstanding. The aim of philanthropy has to be to enable self-sustainability long-term, so please make the effort to investigate how you can make a difference.

Another highlight of my placement was when I was invited to be part of “Tourism Bantaba”, a radio call-in programme about issues around tourism in The Gambia. It’s every Tuesday from 8 - 9pm Gambia time on Paradise fm. I was listening to the programme twice before I went live, which helped me to get a better idea of what the programme is about. A previous volunteer, started the programme a couple of weeks ago. It now has a sponsor and will continue, so I felt proud to be part of a successful continuation of a previous volunteer’s work. We talked about the importance of educating tourists to avoid exploitive behaviour and how and by whom this can be done. The callers made very valuable contributions to the show and some students who listened to the programme commented positively over the following days.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience. I felt needed and valued and could clearly see that the work I was doing, particularly the monitoring training impact aspect, would have not been done for a while (or maybe never) without my financial and time-wise contribution and particular skills. I really hope that future volunteers (with the support and advice of local people) will continue where I stopped, as regular monitoring of projects and businesses will make them much more likely to be successful. Assuming that training automatically means meaningful implementation of what was taught, seems like the general assumption of many NGOs and businesses I came across during my stay. It would be desirable that with the support of volunteers, ASSET and ITTOG can be ahead of the game and implement a regular monitoring system so interventions can be done before it’s too late. Knowing which areas need more support, can help making the tourism industry in The Gambia more crises resilient and sustainable. Tourism is one of the most important industries and the biggest foreign exchange earner in The Gambia.

During my placement, I met plenty of ambitious, clever, creative and driven people, who are ready to change the face of Gambia’s tourism practices for the better. I don’t know what exactly I expected, but I kept being impressed by the positive vibe and hope that overshadowed by far the minor challenges I experienced. The strength of people & places is to match volunteer’s skills with the projects’ needs, which is absolutely true for my placement.

Would I recommend volunteering to other people?
I would certainly recommend volunteering to other people; however, it’s not for everybody. The country and the culture do matter a lot and the projects need to be managed carefully. The Gambian people are extremely friendly with a good sense of humour and have their heart in the right place. The projects I saw seemed well managed and I regularly came across previous volunteer’s work which still was relevant, such as the radio programme and very pretty dressing gowns, which are now sold at a high end hotel.
Some other volunteer projects seemed less well managed. I spoke to a couple of frustrated VSO volunteers whose projects seemed pointless and the local management was said to be very poor. Also, it is important to know that there is a portion of mistrust by some local people about the mission volunteers have in the country. I understood that this is based on decades of unsustainable NGO and volunteer work in various sectors. So be prepared for people being suspicious and questioning what you are doing – they have plenty of reasons to do so. Make sure you have a good reason to be there. I myself keep thinking if my work could have been done by a local person. The answer is yes, but most likely not now, not as quickly (the trip would have taken much longer by public transport) and the number of HE tourism professionals is very limited (and the ones I met seemed to be involved in plenty of projects already). My advice: keep being reflective all the way through and take nothing for granted.

What else
I could not have asked for a better placement. I met the most amazing and ambitious people from all sorts of walks of life. Particularly the local representative of p&p went above and beyond at all times and his support was invaluable for my placement, but also for the projects overall. The contacts I made continue far beyond my volunteer placement and I really hope to have the chance to go to The Gambia again. For now, I’m meeting one Gambian co-workers in 2 days in London to discuss how I can support their Responsible Tourism work from the UK – this is what making a difference is all about I guess.

The support from p&p has been great from the initial contact until now after my return. I was able to chat with them through facebook messenger, which meant I could keep them in the loop about my whereabouts and thoughts while abroad and got advice when needed.
Please do volunteer, but do your research before you go and make sure your skills are needed and the project aims for sustainability.

What would you improve about this program?
Each volunteer placement will face different challenges, depending on the individual's attitude and local circumstances. If I could change one thing, it would probably be a more in-depth preparation for volunteers on the causes of poverty and how the volunteers' behaviour effects local livelihoods.
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Yes, I recommend this program

Volunteer in The Gambia with People and Places

Due to work commitments I was only able to do a placement for 2 weeks. However it was something I really wanted to do, using my skills and experience in insolvency in another country. I had been looking for some time for an organisation that was both flexible and accommodating to not only the duration but the specific nature of the project,and after some time, I was beginning to get frustrated with the process.

I stumbled across the people and places website purely by chance and Kate was very responsive. and when I spoke to Kate she instantly understood what I was looking for. Though my desired project was very specific and I really liked the way she was upfront in saying they were unable to accommodate that specific request but here are some alternative which I had not considered and which would utilise my skills and broaden my skill set. She suggested a project in The Gambia which would “turn your experience in insolvency on its head.” And although it is a cliche I really liked the fact that she was able to think outside the box.

Kate sent me a wealth of information and previous reports from volunteers which were extremely helpful and provided advice in regards to vaccinations and insurance. As I was going during the rainy season I was thankful that I took the advice of a previous volunteer and took an umbrella and torch (it really does rain a lot). This being my first project abroad I was overly prepared on the vaccination front and sorting out my malaria medication and the insurance. I was fortunate enough to speak to Adama Bah who was going to look after me out there, whilst he was in the UK before I flew out and we spoke at length about what I would be doing in the Gambia which was useful and comforting in touching base with him.

At the start of the Project I flew in late on a Saturday night and was met at the airport by Adama. He explained to me the geology and general environment of the Gambia on our journey to the hotel. My first day was spent with Adama showing me around Fajara. And then we made our way to SeneGambia where he showed me just how close Senegal was to the Gambia. We then went to the Sandele Eco Resort where I was to stay the night and gather information to prepare a marketing brief for the hotel.

I met the owners of the Eco Resort Maurice and Geri. They were very inspirational people. They explained to me their ethos and showed me around the resort explaining what they sought to achieve, and what they have done is create an oasis of tranquillity and calm. Needless to say anyone going to the Gambia has to visit the Sandele Eco Resort and meet them, I would say if you have been to the Gambia and not met them you have not been to the Gambia.

After meeting Geri and Maurice the second part of my project was to prepare a cost analysis of Guaranteed Gambia, ITTOG, Plymouth Banjul and ASSET moving to one location and how I would anticipate costing to be divided between the various divisions.Adama introduced me to the various heads of divisions and I was honoured that they were able to take time to meet with me. I was fortunate enough to attend the meeting where the plan to amalgamate all the entities onto one site was proposed and witness the enthusiasm behind the project. Adama also took me to the proposed site and shared with me his vision. He was very supportive and provided me with a lot of information to help me prepare the report.

With a Marketing brief for Sandele and a Cost Analysis report on the new proposed site it was about time I got cracking with some work. I was based at the offices of ASSET in Bakau and received so much help. I spent the next three days working on the marketing brief for Sandele and trawling through the various reports and information provided to me (and my illegible notes) and finalised my report on the Friday.

The following week was then spent preparing the cost analysis for the proposed site and preparing various excel spread sheets and a written report. Adama continually ensured that I was being provided with all the information necessary and that I did not feel to out of my depth.

We had a meeting mid-week where he showed me some architect plans of the site and the proposed restaurant they were planning to build. On Friday he informed me that I would be attending a meeting with him to discuss with Money Gram about installing a proposed money exchange booth on the site and the potential returns that could be made. This was really interesting discussing the mark up on transfers and potential profit split between Money Gram and ASSET.

Without question the highlight of the trip was meeting Adama, Geri and Maurice. Firstly Sandele is a must to visit and I cannot stress this enough, any future volunteers going to the Gambia they must go to the resort and see the fantastic work they are doing environmentally and for the local community. They also have some fantastic stories. Meeting Adama and the vision for the future of tourism in the Gambia was also inspirational. The preparation of both reports over my two week stay kept me busy, but not too busy that I felt pressured and the wealth of support from everyone was fantastic.

I stayed at a local hotel where there were a lot of Peace Corp volunteers from America, and I made a lot of friends there. In terms of leisure time I spent many evening just walking around Fajara and soaking up the atmosphere. We (me and some Peace Corps volunteers) visited the wealth of local restaurants and bars. I was even able to keep track of Liverpool FC’s progress. I only spent one weekend in the Gambia so had to ensure the time was not wasted in sleeping in. I went to Banjul, and walked around the city and visited local markets (for present buying purposes and enjoyed haggling) there is also a local fish market in Baukau where the fish caught is smoked to preserve it. I was able to convince a seller to prepare a “tourist special platter” and got to sample different varieties of local fish at a relatively cheap cost.

I wish I had organised a boat trip down the Gambia as that would have been very interesting however I enjoyed going to the beach and lazing by the pool.
I would definitely recommend going to the Gambia for future volunteers I had an eye opening experience and I thank everyone for all their support and assistance.
People and places were brilliant in supplying so much information before I went out there and I would recommend reading previous volunteer reports. I also thank Kate Stefanko for all her help, needless to say I am not the most organised person and she was brilliant in ensuring I was prepared.

My only advice would be to bring an umbrella if you are going during the rainy season and bring comfortable shoes as it can get quite muddy.

What would you improve about this program?
In terms of critical feedback there weren’t any really other than the “bumsters” who did get a bit annoying but are part of the fabric of the Gambia and it was a case of just dealing with them. The support given by kate before I left was spot on and the trip was everything I could have expected. Although perhaps I may not have chosen to go during the rainy season.
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Yes, I recommend this program

An ethical program with lasting impact

My husband and I are about to return for our 5th volunteer visit to a rural South African school through People and Places. I cannot underestimate the quality of this provider. P&P is one of the most ethical companies I have ever come in contact with. They care deeply about running programs that enable sustainable change for the people whom the volunteers serve. Throughout the volunteer process, we felt that P&P was knowledgeable, ethical, caring and supportive. They work with local partners around the world who are equally impressive. We had no intention of making this part of our life's work, but we now feel that South Africa is our second home. I credit P&P for making this such a meaningful program for us, as well as the teachers, students, and families in the township we serve.

What would you improve about this program?
I take the responsibility of writing an honest review very seriously because others will depend upon my words. Truthfully, in my years of working directly with P&P, I cannot find a flaw in their program. This is one great program.


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Alumni Interviews

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

Michael Earley

Michael Earley is from Northamptonshire having spent much of his life in Luton. He worked in international banking for 27 years before changing career 6 years ago to become a maths teacher at a secondary school in Wellingborough. He enjoys cycling and has recently started competing in tri-athlons.

Why did you decide to volunteer with People and Places in South Africa?

My wife did a lot of research into the subject and was impressed by the awards that P&P had received for Responsible Tourism – especially as these were tied in with Virgin, who I believe are an excellent travel company.

Once we had made contact, we had frequent Sunday afternoon calls from P&P. These satisfied my concerns about whether the cost of the “holiday” was money well spent or should I simply send a donation. I was also concerned about living on a township but any fears were quashed and I certainly felt a little foolish when I arrived at Mickey’s house and met her and her family.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

We would be picked up at about 7.30 and taken to our respective schools were we arrived in time for morning assembly. This turned out to be one of my favourite parts of the day – listening to the wonderful singing of the students (and teachers).

Initially I co-taught with another of the maths teachers. In the second week I was asked to deliver lessons so that the local teachers might gain some new ideas. I was always careful to stress that my way of teaching might not be the best. I am a strong believer in student participation and some of this rubbed off on the local teachers who, by weeks 3 and 4 made the students move around the class and become more active.

At the end of each day, I would have brief conversations with the teachers as a sort of “de-brief” of how the day went.

Every Thursday we met with the Head Teacher and local P&P representative to assess the progress that was being made and whether it could be improved.

What made this experience unique and special?

I had travelled to South Africa a few years earlier and tried to get a sense of what it was like to be a local. Living on a township with local people helped me, in some small way, understand what it’s like to live in SAfrica years after the end of apartheid. Despite there being a lot of poverty among the local people, the students were always happy to see me. I came away with a lot of happy memories!

How has this experience impacted your future?

As a teacher in a secondary school which has part of its cohort from estates where drugs and gangs are common, I am able to put into context how lucky we are. I entered teaching to work with students that need a break. The trip to SAfrica re-enforced that desire.

Staff Interviews

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

Tell us a little about Scope and your role at the company.

I'm Sallie Grayson, co-founder of People and Places - a social enterprise that recruits skilled volunteers. We are based in the UK, but we work all over the world. I spend my time between the UK, traveling, and my second home in France. I know, but someone has to do it!

Give us your story. How did you get involved in the volunteer industry?

It’s all the fault of Harold Goodwin (Professor of Responsible Tourism, Leeds Metropolitan University). I met him in the Gambia where I was volunteering (after I’d sold out my share in the retail business I was managing).

I had a great time and believe I did something meaningful – despite the organization I travelled with, not because of it. Harold was working with the Gambian government on their tourism policy. We were staying in the same small hotel and we compared notes about how volunteers and communities are so badly-served by many sending organizations. Beer-talk led us to decide that the best way to demonstrate the potential of responsible volunteering was to do it ourselves. That was back in 2004 – we placed our first volunteer in 2006.

In your experience, what characteristics make a good international volunteer?

Flexibility – It’s never going to be exactly as you planned
Patience – Other people’s priorities may not be yours, and timekeeping is always going to be a challenge!
A sense of humor – Otherwise you’ll spend the whole time weeping!
The ability to listen – Not all your skills and experience will be appropriate in the local context. Establish what the realities are before diving in
Focus – You’ll see so much need. You can’t address everything, and in trying to do too much, you risk achieving nothing
A skill and the ability to share that skill – That may be mending a bicycle, designing an accounting system, or healthcare
Oh, and my partner Kate who prepares the volunteers for their placements says – “a strong stomach!”

How can volunteers stay centered with realistic goals?

It’s all in the preparation! For goals to be realistic they need to be agreed on - by the volunteer, the community they’ll be working with, and the support team that facilitates the volunteer’s placement. A realistic goal in your own environment will not necessarily be achievable in the volunteering context. Cultural, economic, emotional, and political circumstances will be new – that slows things down. We tell volunteers, “take what you think you may be able to achieve, halve it, halve it again and then cut it by 50%!” We soften this with the promise that we’re in this for the long haul and we’ll help future volunteers to build on their work.

What is the continuing benefit of volunteering abroad after a volunteer returns home?

It varies from person to person – some find the experience life-changing and return to take on new challenges in their lives; others simply see the world slightly differently. All our volunteers return home telling us that they have learnt something new about themselves – a strength they didn’t know they had; a weakness they need to work on! For communities where they’ve worked, mutual friendship and understanding are as important as the skills shared by volunteers. There’s a great word in Xhosa, "Ubuntu," which means something like “I am because you are.” That’s the lasting feel-good factor for volunteers and communities.

Tell us about People and Places, and how your organization encourages ‘responsible volunteering.’

We have some core values that we will not compromise!

- No volunteer will replace local employment – Volunteers work with not instead of local people
- No local community will subsidize a volunteer – All volunteers are completely self funding, right down to paying for their own farewell party!
- Transparency and accountability – Volunteers and communities knows where the money goes
- Informed consent – No volunteer is placed without the prior consent of and discussion with the project. The needs of the community are paramount
- The safety of the community and the volunteer is vital – For example, all volunteers are screened and risk analyses are done for all projects and accommodation
- We work with award-winning local partners – They already have superb responsible travel credentials
- We started People and Places to campaign for responsible volunteering – We walk the walk and talk the talk! I spend a lot of time canvassing for responsible volunteering and a lot of time looking for great practitioners. Then I try and learn as much as I can from them

How do you respond to the criticism that volunteering abroad can do more harm than good?

Well, you know what? Sometimes it does! My answer? As with any other market, the power to bring about real change sits with the consumer. Volunteering has two consumers, the volunteer and the community, guests and hosts. It’s the volunteers’ responsibility to do all they can to ensure that the organization they’re volunteering with is ethical and responsible. Ask all the right questions – look past the marketing hype, do your research, and PLEASE report bad practise! There are lots of forums you can post on.

Its more complex for projects. It’s nigh on impossible for them to turn down income and assistance – they have so few resources. The trouble is they often accept very little income and the wrong assistance!

To steal from Krippendorf (the pioneer of responsible travel), we need “rebellious tourists and rebellious locals.” Of course, it’s a given that sending organizations need to be more responsible, but the reality is that many organizations won’t change until it starts to affect their bottom line – and that will only happen if consumers say “Enough already!”

I also think the media must exercise more responsibility – there’s a flood of articles that seem to imply that sending organisations are just greedy baddies, that’s not true or helpful, but what’s really worrying to me is the suggestion that fees can be avoided altogether by volunteers making their own arrangements directly with projects, or by just turning up on the doorstep, unprepared, and unscreened. This is horrifying – it’s immoral, irresponsible, and a recipe for disaster. Only very few projects have the capacity to screen, prepare, and manage volunteers.

What does the future hold for you?

The joy of meeting and working with yet more inspirational people – and a sailing holiday would be nice! In my previous life, I used to find the time. Now, either my time management is rubbish, or I’m just too driven to take a break – or maybe it’s both?

Famous last words?

Can a (wo)man eat an elephant? – yes, though not all at once!