I want to preface this by saying that, overall, I had a good experience in China. This was down to the other volunteers, the staff and the placement I was moved to and the efforts of the projects abroad staff there.
I was placed in an autism care centre. A few days after starting I was concerned by the behaviour of the staff at the placement, which I saw as abusive. 1 week after starting there I raised this with a Projects Abroad staff member, who agreed with my concerns, adding that she also disliked the way the children there are treated. She said she would talk to the staff member who was in charge of the placements. I continued voicing how uncomfortable I was at the placement and how much I hated it, it had a real effect on me emotionally. Only one member of staff at the care centre spoke limited English, and the rest were stand offish. I was extremely bored there, spending most of the time sitting at the back watching. I saw some really nasty things, children as young as 2 and a half were hit, slapped, smacked, dangled upside down, sat on, pushed down and humiliated. It was really distressing. I then found out that another volunteer had left the placement due to this abuse just 1 week before I arrived, and she had moved to another placement, yet I was still placed there. After 3 weeks the PA staff member in charge of placements rang to tell me she could move me to a kindergarten. However, she spent the phone call telling me that it was good for the children for me to stay, and that I would be seen as a source of comfort. I was emotionally exhausted after three weeks though. I refused to stay and was moved. Apparently they have stopped sending volunteers there.
What really concerns me is that this abuse is still going on, and there is no PA issue with it. The children in the centre behave the way they do because of a disorder, not because they are naughty. On my last day I was in a 'classroom' for elder children, and was playing with the kids who were not being seen by a 'teacher'. One boy incorrectly counted to 10, and kept making the same mistake. The teacher slapped his arms, then smacked his hand so hard it left a mark. At this point the child was sobbing, but was continually hit. He was then sent to play with me, and instead sat there clutching my hand and crying into my shoulder, and trying to hide his face from the teacher who did this to him. It was heartbreaking.
I was moved to another placement, and enjoyed it, but this experience has left a real mark on me.
There are a number of other issues I had with this organisation.
1.) Inaccurate information. The information given on the site before you sign up (& pay) for your trip is entirely wrong. It said volunteers would have a chef for meals. We didn't, instead having a food allowance - which is ok, but annoying when you were told something else, especially when the food allowance is pretty low. The information about appropriate clothing was wrong. Information about responsibilities at the placement was wrong. It's just incredibly frustrating to pay for something and then find out everything is much different.
2.) I was given distressing news 6 weeks in, and had to fly home for a funeral 2 weeks later. I had booked my flights through Projects Abroad, and was told that everything was fine and they could move my flights. However, I told them the date of the funeral on a Friday - wanting to fly back the Tuesday after the next - no one from the 'Travel Team' picked up on Friday, then I was told they don't work weekends. By Monday lunchtime no one in their office was picking up, and I was unable to change the flight online myself as it was booked through the company. I was having an awful time and projects abroad just made it more difficult. In the end I got so mad that I asked if there was anything I could do to move these flights, as if I waited too much longer it would cost a lot more to change them, or I could risk not making the funeral. So I ended up using my lunch break to go to the airline office myself to move the flights. What am I paying projects abroad for 'services' if their travel team are incapable of sorting anything out over a course of nearly 4 days.
3.) The day before I left for the funeral (the same day I was informed of more distressing information about the death), I was visited by a staff member to be given my allowance - which is essentially the money you pay distributed at different times - as I was returning to finish my project after the funeral. I was told that for the 4 days I was back in the UK my allowance was being deducted for this time as I was "travelling". No other volunteer who took days off from work for actual fun travel had this happen. I was so mad that the staff member did go back to the office, talk about it, and then decide to give me the money (which is basically my own money). This seems small, but its just the fact that at every corner there's some stupid issue that needs to be sorted and not everything is straight forward. It's just tiring.
There were other small fights, for example, where I could leave my bag during the 2 weeks (actual) travel time you're allowed on a 12 week project. It's just that everything has to be complicated and arrangements are constantly backtracked on.
However, I had a great time meeting other people from all over the world, gaining independence and working with the children and my second placement.