What to do if it all goes wrong. We’re here to help!
Steve Williams | Co-Founder
So you’ve invested a lot of time organizing something that you hope is going cure that itch, give you an invaluable life experience, help others and you’ve invested a lot of money in paying for it. You’re on the edge of something that you want to be totally awesome. This is about as far removed from a package holiday to the Costa Del Sol as you’ll find so you want it to rock your world.
You arrive at your first port of call, meet up with your placement coordinators and fellow volunteers and suddenly you’re drowning as the sinking feeling grips you and starts to pull you under. Your fellow volunteers seem to be rather self-righteous and here on a mission to change the world, and commentate to everybody everything they’ve ever done and are doing, every minute of every day. Or even worse, they smell! Or, low and behold, your project isn’t delivering to you what you were told it would deliver. What do you do? How do you deal with it? What are your options?
At Bamboo, and we can’t speak for all volunteering and travel agencies, but we are a lovely, cuddly, open and honest organization who put the needs, comfort and safety of the volunteer up there with the requirements of the projects and NGOs we support. Those are our two primary concerns and we will all go out of our way to ensure these concerns are met.This little blog is to give you a few ideas of what to do if you feel that your placement or your tour isn’t delivering or isn’t meeting your expectations.
Let’s be clear from the outset here though. It’s as much your responsibility to do your homework on your trip as it is the responsibility of Bamboo to give you a clear and concise description of what’s going to happen once you arrive at your destination. If you don’t ask us all of the questions you need answering before signing up then it’s quite obvious that we can’t answer them. To make sure that we tick all of your boxes, take a few days to write down a list of questions then either email that list to us or better still arrange a telephone or Skype chat with one of our team. We’re here for you and we want your time with us to be as life-changing as it was for all of us way back when we we’re volunteering in foreign countries.
We’ve compiled a list of issues that are most commonly faced by volunteers to give you some idea of how to approach it in the unlikely event that you’re caught in one or more of these situations. Is there anything we’ve missed here? Well let us know and we’ll happily give you an idea of how to deal with it.
1. Don’t get along with your coordinator or fellow volunteers?
It’s very unlikely that this will happen but it has and it can. On the whole, volunteers are a certain breed; caring, hard-working, amiable and pleasant people. They generally mix well with others and are interesting to be around. Occasionally however things can go wrong, somebody may say the wrong thing, have certain views on a subject that other disagree with or are just lazy and messy. What can you do? First of all, try your best to find a way to talk to that individual, away from the rest and be polite. Nobody likes confrontation, especially thousands of miles away from home. If that doesn’t work then talk to your coordinator and perhaps they can talk to that individual for you. Our team have been trained to deal with situations like this and in most cases a simple sit down and chat can alleviate tension.
What if the person you don’t like is your coordinator? Fear not. Call our operations team in Bangkok who will mediate on your behalf. It may be possible to have you work with a different coordinator. We will get to the bottom of the problem and do what we can to make things right. In almost all cases that I have dealt with in the past situations like this are born of a simple misunderstanding that has got out of hand. A simple chat is an effective solution.
2. Not enough work to do?
Talk to your coordinator. It is after all their job to make sure that work is available and that the work you’re doing is both effective and planned properly. Ask yourself if the work you’re doing is being done well and the effort you’re putting in to it is sufficient. If you’re certain that you couldn’t put any more effort in to it then let us make things right. Your coordinator should always be the first person to talk to about this issue so please do give us the opportunity to correct this before going off at the deep end!
3. How is your money being used?
You should have had an explanation of how your money is used way before you even signed up for your placement or your tour. If you did, and you still don’t feel as though you’re getting good value then look around you, consider what you’re doing and where you’re staying, your transport, the project and the work you’re doing etc. Then remember that Bamboo is a business and like every other business the world over, we have bills to pay over and above your placement. We have to pay accountants, communications, salaries, insurance, rents, transportation, site visits, banking fees, website and much more. If you really look in to what you’re paying and what you’re getting for that payment, I know you’ll actually agree that you’re receiving excellent value for your fee.
4. Missing home?
We all do! Most of our international team have lived in Thailand over 4 years and I can assure you that each and every one of them are missing or have missed home at some point. We all have families on the other side of the world and don’t see them as often we want too. Don’t worry about missing home, it’s not embarrassing and doesn’t make you any less of a Rock Star! Get on Skype and call them. If you’re unable to do so and you’re desperate to call home, ask your coordinator if you can borrow their phone – but please give them a little donation towards their phone bill. If it’s the middle of the night and you can’t call home, then just chatting to your coordinator will make you feel better about things. It’s totally natural to miss loved ones, just try your best to not let it impact the awesome work that you’re doing here. The last thing you want to do is finish your project, head home and regret feeling so depressed whilst you were here.
5. Feeling unsafe and a little threatened?
Stop! If this ever happens, you must talk to either your coordinator or our Bangkok operations team immediately. We never, ever want any of our volunteers to ever feel in any way unsafe or threatened. This is quite possible the most important piece of information I could ever pass on to you.
If you’re feeling this way because of a situation that we have unknowingly placed you in to then you must tell us immediately and you will be removed from that situation in the blink of an eye.
Your safety and comfort and extremely important to us – don’t ever think that you’re might be just moaning and that we’ll tell you to stop being silly. If you feel unsafe, we will sort it out.
If you feel unsafe because of your own actions then this is slightly different. Accepting a lift home from a stranger after a few too many drinks in a bar is your own doing and we will let you know just how foolish you’ve been. Think about your actions. Just because you’re in a holiday destination it doesn’t mean you can take your eye off the ball and leave your inhibitions in your volunteer house!
6. Not happy with your accommodation?
First of please remember that you’re not on a package holiday. This is a volunteering placement or a volunteering tour. In order to give the best value for money we can’t give you 5* luxury but we will give you the best available in the price range we can deal with. Are your concerns genuine? If there’s water leaking in to your room, there are cockroaches on the floor, the mattress smells funny or your windows don’t lock, then please inform your coordinator or your guide immediately. If we don’t know about an issue we can’t deal with it. Let us have the opportunity to put it right for you. I can assure you that we would never knowingly give you sub-standard accommodation so if you feel we have, please give us the opportunity to rectify it.
7. You want to leave early?
It happens. Very occasionally volunteers feel as though they’re not getting out of the project what they had been promised, they’re not fitting in, despite trying to do so, they miss home or they’ve grown bored of working and want to travel. Please don’t leave a project before discussing this with your coordinator. Our team work very hard with the projects that we have available for volunteers to join. Most of those projects reorganize their own routines to make themselves available for you. By simply not turning up one day you can be causing big problems for many people. Yeah, that’s not your problem, but it’s really just common courtesy.
Please think through if you definitely have got to leave the project early and if you’ve made up your mind then at least your coordinator a few days notice, or as much notice as you can.
Giving our team written feedback is vital to help us grow and maintain or slick operations. It’s also worthwhile taking 20 minutes to do this whilst it’s still fresh in your memory. If you can give our team that amount of time to write a brief journal of how you feel the project was for you, your good and bad memories, ways that you feel we can improve, we will be extremely grateful. The most important thing to remember when writing or giving any feedback is to be constructive. Please try to avoid just tell us how bad the bedroom was in the volunteer house for example, try to tell us what was wrong with it and how you feel it could be put right.
9. You Get Sick or Injured
It’s vital that you have purchased travel and medical insurance before you arrive in your country of choice. This insurance must cover you for accidents and illness and please bring your insurance cover note with you. If your insurance company has sent your policy to you through the post then it’s also a very good idea to scan that and email it to yourself so that you, or we, have access to it in the event of any emergencies.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions then you must also inform us, and in some cases, your fellow volunteers of what this is. If this medical condition affects you during your placement we must know what you need from us in order to keep you safe and get the required medical attention.
In the event that you require medical attention, or worse, a spell in hospital, our team will always be there for you and can contact your family, if that’s what you need us to do. Don’t be afraid to reach out to us for any help.
Above all else, if you have any problems, concerns or issues, communicate. Talk to us and please give us the opportunity to correct it before you plaster your rants all over social media. Remember, we all genuinely want this to be a life-changing experience for you and will go that extra mile to make that happen. We are after all just like you.