Note: This is a truthful depiction of my personal experience of Trellis's Fall 2017 volunteer program. I understand that this program's other two volunteers’ reviews will be drastically different, as they are now currently employed by Trellis’s parent company, Lesson4U. Everything in this review is true to the best of my knowledge.
Trellis… "Travel with Purpose."
While the concept is a promising one — Trellis fails to deliver on its promises.
In August 2017, I had the opportunity to be part of Trellis’s initial foray into the non-profit volunteer space. While it started off rather well, it quickly fell into a state of chaos, disorganization, and ultimately, frustration.
While it is understandable that the program is still in its infancy, there are some major flaws that must be worked out, in order for it to be considered a fair exchange of time.
Trellis is engineered to funnel free (volunteer) teachers (recruits) into their school by offering them teaching positions at their Kanazawa office, after they’ve completed the three month program. Unfortunately, this is the their primary goal – NOT impacting developing communities, as listed via their marketing materials.
Trellis "loosely" (non-contractually) promises its volunteers the following:
1) An opportunity to travel with purpose.
2) The safety and well-being of its volunteers.
3) Transportation to and from its volunteer teaching obligations.
4) Adequate living accommodations.
5) Training as an English Language Teacher.
6) A secured job at the end of the program, signed off and agreed upon prior to the last month of volunteering.
Unfortunately — in my personal experience — Trellis was only able to deliver two of the six aforementioned items: the living accommodations and training as an English Language Teacher.
We started with a team of four volunteers. Three males and one female. By the end of the program, only two of the males remained. Half of us quit — myself included. This leaves Trellis with a 50% approval rating for their first program.
My full contract term was not fulfilled due to administrative and professional business ineptitude that led to unsolved issues related to my legal visa status and program management, more specifically, but not limited to:
• Ineffective leadership and mismanagement
• Dodging of responsibilities and the well-being of volunteers, regardless of their decision to part ways with the program (i.e. getting them home safe and sound)
• A steep program fee cost, with zero guaranteed return and no clear refund policy ($2,000, plus airfare, international insurance, living expenses)
• Poor orchestration of teaching schedule; locking volunteers into an 11-hour window of free labor (6:45am-5:45pm), five days a week
• Failures in getting important legal documents acknowledged and signed (the acting manager forgot/neglected to have me sign the Terms & Conditions Agreement)
• Transportation costs not being reimbursed in a timely manner (we often had to find our own way to the school, on our own dime)
• Lack of adequate teaching materials (whiteboard markers, erasers, printing paper, etc)
• Onsite training limited to about week or two, as acting manager is rarely in the office to administer continued training
• Acting manager showing up late (hours after volunteers clock in) on a 4/5 (weekly) ratio (volunteers show up at 6:45am/acting manager does not arrive in office until 8am or later)
• Agreements have not been crafted or cleared by attorneys. No legitimate contract. No legal disclaimers or failsafes. Grey areas all around
• If something goes wrong, "it's the volunteer's fault, not the company's"
At the current moment, I do not believe this program is worth the requested investment (time/money).
I will be requesting a full refund and compensation for my time, program fees, and expenses – as the acting manager did not present and mutually agree in advance any formal terms and conditions documents.
That said, I am grateful for the learning experience and the opportunity to try something new. Your actual experience will most likely be different, if the issues mentioned above are resolved to present a program that is as fulfilling as promised for all parties involved.