RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL POLICY
OUR SUSTAINABLE APPROACH
PMGY is an international volunteer placement organisation that connects people to grass-root projects across the world. Established to provide affordable and impactful volunteer programs, we work to support communities around the globe. Our number one aim is to bring people together for a common good.
At PMGY, we work hard to promote responsible volunteer travel. More specifically, focussing on providing long-term benefits for communities across the world.
Development of Language Skills – Our teaching projects provide free English lessons to children within our local communities. Learning and improving both written and spoken English is key to educational development and prosperity.
Provision of Local Employment – Our projects rely on the hard work of PMGY volunteers. However, they equally depend on the continued efforts of our teams in the local community. Our teams expand to include cooks, cleaners, co-ordinators at projects and drivers. These employment opportunities are underpinned through the setups we create and develop with our partner countries.
Wider Community/Economic Benefit – A lot of our destinations are in local towns. This leads to indirect benefits to small independent shops, private taxis, tuk-tuks, local restaurants and businesses. All these establishments benefit from the increased trade that comes with international volunteers in the local community.
Long-Lasting Legacies Created – The work of our teams and volunteers have led to the development of long term schemes. For example, medical camps in India, an eye clinic in a Sri Lankan hospital and the restoration of temples.
When determining new volunteer projects, local communities are central to the planning and decision-making process for us. We take a bottom-up approach – people know what is best for their own communities. This means that our programs address issues identified by local neighbourhoods. All projects run and supported by PMGY have been identified as appropriate opportunities for volunteers. In these locations, not only are volunteers able to provide valuable input to the local community but also create tangible results. Across all of our destinations, such a judgement has always been made and suggested by the communities we support.
Before embarking on a new program, we carefully assess the credentials of the project we intend to support. We consider how we can work together, and if there is a genuine need for international volunteers. This process takes anywhere from 3 to 12 months.
Once we’ve done our homework, a member of the International Team will travel to the location. Across such a program visit, we will meet with the projects and local community members that we intend to support. This allows us to assess firsthand how we can help, and manage their expectations of what can be achieved.
It is vital that the introduction of volunteering projects into a community will not negatively affect the pre-existing employment structure. For example, across all of our programs, our volunteers never replace local teachers – they will only work to assist. The introduction of proposed set-ups must not negatively impact or influence services that are already established within the local community. Similarly, it is also important for us to assess the potential long-term impacts on community development through international volunteering. In all circumstances, it is critical that the impact of volunteering abroad programs on local communities is a positive one.
We also make important evaluations to assess the suitability of the intended volunteer project set up for our volunteers. This includes factors such as the volunteer accommodation, transport systems and the local community. All destinations with PMGY must be able to provide both a safe and suitable service to our volunteers.
Our extensive selection process is essential to ensuring responsible travel. It’s our commitment to our volunteers to ensure that their work will have a tangible positive impact. Similarly, it is just as important that volunteers are comfortable, secure and as well-supported as possible. Furthermore, we have a responsibility to both the projects and people we work with. With this, we must ensure that our volunteers continually meet expectations and fully support the community’s needs.
At PMGY, our focus is to mobilise people of all backgrounds to encourage a social and culturally diverse mix. Equally, we have a duty to ensure that our volunteers’ skills are matched with the needs of our communities. All contributions to our programs abroad are met with great admiration and gratitude. However, with this being said, it is important that our communities can be provided with the most appropriate support. This comes back down to maintaining the positive impacts of our programs. We have a duty to the projects we work with to ensure we place volunteers that are passionate, wholesome and committed.
To join any program with PMGY, individuals are required to first apply online for the position they intend to undertake. Unlike a package holiday, our programs are not book-and-go placements. We carefully assess each application we receive, ensuring that an applicant’s expectations and skills are suited to the project. Individuals are encouraged to get in touch if they have any uncertainties of their best-suited program.
Put together, our International Team has decades of experience. We have volunteered on the programs, coordinated volunteers and continue to make frequent project visits. For this reason, we are best placed to address the suitability of each of our candidates to their program of interest. All applications to PMGY are reviewed by our International Team. Each application is reviewed to ensure that the requirements of the project in question are met. Based on the skillset and expectations laid out by an applicant, we may suggest an alternative volunteer project. Similarly, there may be instances where we reject applications.
We have a commitment to our projects to ensure the volunteers we send are trustworthy and of sound moral character. For this reason, international volunteers must provide a clean criminal background check. This must be received by the PMGY International Team at least 21 days prior to a participant’s program start date. This is a check that must be issued by an official Governmental or Police Body. Consequently, we are unable to accept participants who have had any previous criminal convictions. This is particularly important when ensuring we only have suitable candidates working with potentially volunteering with vulnerable groups.
It is vital that we recruit and train our volunteers so that their skill set matches the needs of the project. Through our literature and introductory sessions, participants are provided with an extensive level of background regarding their placement. Our in-country teams also work hard to provide comprehensive guidance on the ongoing aims and objectives of the project.
We have strong relationships with the local communities in which we work. For this reason, we have a duty to ensure that our volunteers are able to effectively integrate within their volunteer project. This ensures that the contributions made by each of our international volunteers are as positive and productive as possible. We make sure that our volunteers are provided with all of the tools to enable them to do this. The role of our International Team and detailed resources is to provide this information in a comprehensive manner. This can be broken down into the following components:
Successfully managing expectations is a top priority of our volunteer organisation. It is a key aspect of what we do. It is vital that this is done effectively, ensuring that our volunteers are most appropriately positioned to prepare for their program.
At PMGY, we work hard to keep our literature as up-to-date, relevant and informative as possible. Our written descriptions are both realistic and detailed. Similarly, we try to provide honest verbal and online communication. We also offer a comprehensive support network that includes online and telephone support staff. Such communication lines are available 24 hours each day.
We try to make these resources as available as possible. The aim of this is to put international volunteers in the best position to understand exactly what their role will entail.
Our Volunteer Handbooks are a key resource in managing expectations. Moreover, they play a key role in preparing our international volunteers for their trip overseas.
Every international volunteer with PMGY is provided with a country-specific Volunteer Handbook, outlining every aspect of their program overseas. Alongside visa requirements and packing lists, these 40+ page guides provide key information about safety and cultural factors. It is important for our international volunteers to read this thoroughly prior to departure. Additionally, participants should keep the content of their Volunteer Handbook in mind during their travels overseas.
Our Volunteer Handbooks cover everything relevant to the volunteer program aspects of an individual’s trip with us. Despite this, international volunteers are always recommended to perform their own detailed research in advance of their journey. This could be into the local language or further details regarding culture.
Pre Departure Webinars
Each week, a member of our PMGY International Team will host an online webinar.
Once a month, our team will present our Introductory Webinar, directed to prospective participants. This presentation offers an interactive opportunity for individuals to learn more about PMGY projects, before committing to a volunteer program.
For participants already signed up to a PMGY program, there are three webinars available to help prepare for a program abroad:
Travel Essentials – Everything our participants need to know before joining our teams in-country)
Program Preparation – Providing participants with a strong foundation to partake in their project
Safety & Wellbeing – Safety advice to ensure participants are best prepared to avoid potential risks during their time overseas
These interactive sessions provide participants with invaluable advice for their upcoming trip. It also acts as an additional opportunity for participants to ask questions.
Each of our International Team members has direct experience of volunteering and travelling in the locations that we operate in. This puts them in the best position to provide up-to-date and relevant content. Additionally, they are most appropriately placed to address any questions and provide first-hand accounts for volunteer experiences.
PMGY’s International Team is always on-hand to provide assistance and support volunteers in advance of their program start date. During a volunteer’s time in-country, our local teams provide around the clock assistance and support. Additionally, our 24-hour International Emergency Line is always accessible on top of this. We will continue our support service even after your trip has ended with PMGY. For example, we will reach out to you for feedback on your volunteer experience. In addition, we will send you an International Certificate of Completion.
Social Media Support
We have created a network of destination-specific groups across Facebook. These pages enable individuals to extend their questions to a much larger audience of past, current and future international volunteers. Members also have the opportunity to reach out to other volunteers travelling at the same time as this. Moreover, our local teams will post regular updates of in-country project developments. This makes these groups a perfect platform to inform, advise and help manage expectations.
We do our best to keep our program costs as low and affordable as possible, without sacrificing quality and safety. However, you may find you need a little bit of help with other finances – considering flights, travel insurance and spending money. Consequently, a large number of PMGY volunteers decide to fundraise for their trip. In these instances, we recommend that volunteers set up an online fundraising page. As a result, you have a great platform to inform your friends, family and wider network of your trip details.
PMGY has partnered with the online crowdfunding website GoGetFunding for volunteers to create a personalised fundraising page for their trip. This professional online fundraising service allows you to set financial goals and get the message across about what you’re doing. You can also share your PMGY fundraising page across various social media platforms. Perhaps you will use Facebook or Twitter to spread the word!
In addition, the PMGY Foundation is a UK registered charity (1169415). This charity has been created to help provide financial aid and assistance to projects we work with on an ongoing basis. Individuals looking to raise money directly for the projects can do so via our Virgin Money Giving fundraising page. 100% of all money raised will be donated directly to the projects we support around the world.
We understand the value of feedback from past volunteers for prospective participants. Individuals are able to read about other’s experience in detail via our Trustpilot Page. Not only does this feedback provide an element of comfort and reassurance, but it can also offer a level of preparation. Through the understanding of other experiences, individuals can ensure they can make the most of their time and skills.
Such feedback is also an invaluable insight for our teams worldwide. PMGY actively encourages international volunteer feedback to ensure that improvements can be made accordingly. Feedback is reviewed frequently with PMGY local teams to ensure that any necessary changes are implemented as appropriate. In turn, this helps to maintain participant experience and volunteer safety at its highest level.
After a program has been established, our in-country teams continue as active community members. This means that they work hard to balance both volunteer and local community needs. Our teams build strong connections with the local community, volunteer projects, participants and the people that we are working to help. This means that they are best placed to maintain impactful volunteer project networks.
Our local and International Teams regularly connect to evaluate the ongoing development of the programs. Questions that remain under continued review include:
• What are the evolving needs of the local community?
• How can we ensure that we are not replacing local employment on an ongoing basis?
• How can international volunteers fill any skill shortages within the local community?
• How do we ensure that skills are transferred to community members from volunteers?
Through an open and reflective dialogue, we are able to build on and continuously develop trust with our host communities. We work hard to ensure that we are welcomed as part of the community, rather than seen as tourists passing through.
In addition to these points, we continually reflect on how we continue to achieve our goals. This includes the reflection of the following points:
• How are the volunteer projects going?
• Do we continue to achieve our goals? If not, why not, and what can we do to progress?
• What is the feedback from international volunteers, project staff and the community?
Our International Team annually performs reviews. It is important to re-evaluate our goals in person, formulate new objectives, and if necessary, revise the current protocol. Throughout every stage, we monitor and evaluate the impact and effectiveness of our work.
By performing frequent visits and with continual communications, we have built strong, trusting relationships with our local teams.
Maintaining positive impacts worldwide is one of the greatest challenges for volunteer organisations across the world. It is, therefore, a topic that is frequently reviewed by our teams at PMGY. This is to ensure that we continue to meet the targets we have worked so hard to establish.
At PMGY, we place thousands of volunteers in our volunteer projects worldwide each year. With a regular flow of participants, we are able to provide constant and continued support to our local communities worldwide. Naturally, international volunteer numbers fluctuate across the seasons. Whilst this could create a barrier in ensuring sustained commitment to our programs, we work hard to ensure it does not. We manage the number of international volunteers each program receives, helping to keep it consistent. This means capping volunteer numbers when a project reaches full capacity. Alternatively, expanding our support in the local communities when required. No matter the time of year, we work hard to ensure our commitment to our programs and local communities is maintained.
In addition to leaving a lasting legacy, we work hard to ensure our efforts remain positive through all means:
Our programs are self-funded by the volunteers’ Program Fees. Such funds financially support the volunteer projects in our network. Neither the communities we support nor the projects, bear any financial burden by receiving volunteer support.
Below, we use our program in India as an example:
Alice in Wonderland Children’s Home (AIW) – This home was initially set up to provide care for eight children in Faridabad. The volunteer Program Fees paid have funded the employment of local staff to provide the appropriate care for the children. Additionally, these funds have allowed the children to receive support for their needs. This includes aspects such as their education, clothing and social life. To this day, the home continues to run and support children within the local community. Our volunteers also work to support the home, playing an important role in looking after the children in their free time. This ranges from helping the children with their homework, to playing games and arranging activities.
Medical Outreach Camps – Our local team also supports medical camps within slum communities. Across these neighbourhoods, there is a prominent lack of health education and access to medical support. Our team has therefore introduced medical camps. They provide primary healthcare and medical check-ups to the residents of these disadvantaged communities. The medical camps are run and financed by the volunteer Program Fees, ensuring the availability of free health-care. Through this support, our team has established a permanent clinic in the heart of the largest slum within Faridabad. In addition to this, our team is able to run pop-up camps across further neighbourhoods, to extend this outreach.
In each destination worldwide, our direct-workforce is made up of between 5-10 people. Our local team members are individuals diverse in gender, ethnicity and age. Not only do our international volunteers provide direct positive economic impacts for the programs, but indirect too. The presence of volunteers offers a welcome source of income and employment within the further community.
Most of our locations are established in small localised communities. As a result, they do not benefit from traditional tourism. Therefore, our programs and volunteers help contribute towards the even distribution of income and economic growth in the region.
Climate change is an ongoing global issue. It is associated with rising temperatures globally and consequential environmental impacts. At PMGY, we recognise that there are a number of ways in which any organisation can reduce their environmental impact.
Across the globe, we support several environmental and wildlife conservation programs:
Example – Sea Turtle Conservation, Sri Lanka – Human activity has endangered many turtle species across the globe. From habitat destruction to poaching, the course of survival for these aquatic creatures is becoming increasingly difficult.
In 2013, we initiated our very first conservation program, establishing our Sea Turtle Sanctuary in Ambalangoda, Sri Lanka. The prime aim of the sanctuary was to protect and rehabilitate sea turtles. The fishing industry plays a large role in the Sri Lankan economy, particularly in Ambalangoda. Unfortunately, this brings with it adverse risks to turtle populations, through the indirect creation of numerous obstacles and dangers. Quite often, such dangers bring with them injurious, or even fatal consequences. In addition, turtle egg poaching across many countries remains prominent, often serving medicinal purposes. These aforementioned risks were noticed by our team, thus initiating their conquest towards turtle conservation in Ambalangoda.
This wildlife volunteering abroad project provides a network for turtles negatively affected by human conflict. The volunteer program also strives to provide educational outreach sessions, aiming to try and increase awareness on the issue. Ultimately, the long term goal of the project is to release healthy turtles back to the wild. Additionally, the volunteer program works to protect turtle eggs from the path of local poachers.
Working to be Environmentally Friendly with PMGY – At PMGY, we recognise that international travel brings with it challenges to the environment. With this in mind, we have introduced the opportunity for our volunteers to make a positive carbon impact when travelling abroad. This has been achieved through our Triple Carbon Offset Scheme, allowing participants to eliminate their carbon footprint. Below is an example of how the Triple Offset Idea for volunteers in Sri Lanka works:
Kenya – 51 mango trees are planted in Kenya. These are capable of absorbing the total carbon emissions for a volunteer trip to Sri Lanka. Additionally, they help provide a sustainable income for local farmers.
India – 80 days of access to a solar cooker are provided to a family in India. This means the family don’t have to spend on firewood and thus reduce their dependence on trees.
USA – 1.25kg of rescued meals are provided to the homeless in the USA. The recycling of this wasted food reduces methane emission from food waste, which is equivalent to 1lb of CO2 emissions.
Participants with PMGY are offered the chance to add-on the scheme during their online application. Alternatively, they are able to contact us to add this on at a later date. The offset platform is provided by our charity, the PMGY Foundation . This ensures that 100% of contributions are put towards these high impact projects around the world.
Promoting Positive Environmental Impacts – We also work hard to try to encourage our participants to maintain a positive and proactive attitude towards supporting the environment. This includes encouraging environmentally friendly mindsets. For example, the use of reusable water bottles and avoidance of single-use plastics.
When it comes down to the social impacts of our programs, we work on two fundamental principles. Firstly, our volunteers are there to serve and not be served. Secondly, each destination comes with its own socio-cultural value system. With these factors in mind, we are unable to apply a one-size-fits-all model. Instead, we must continue to evolve our approach to meet the changing needs of the projects.
We work hard to prepare our volunteers in advance of their project start date. This aims to enable them to effectively integrate into their host location on arrival. The core principles of this are learnt through our careful research, community engagement and the understanding of the local set up. Frequent engagement between our international and ground staff allows us to understand the ever-growing needs of the community.
During the initial orientation period in the country, we inform our volunteers about the local culture, cultural differences and language. We also implement a strict dress code for our international volunteers. In turn, this helps to further ensure that our participants minimise the potential negative impacts of volunteering within the community.
It is vital that our volunteers bring with them a range of skills to the projects they work with. With this, there is equal importance to ensure that we transfer this knowledge to those within the local community. For this reason, our volunteers’ impact extends beyond the actual time they spend volunteering.
PMGY’s education programs do not simply lie within the regular classroom. Rather, a volunteer teaching English abroad is also encouraged to spend time improving the English skills of local teachers. Additionally, they are able to introduce new teaching techniques. Through these indirect methods, we are improving the quality of education that the children receive long-term.
Example – After-School Community Education, Bali – In 2011, our local team established the Akasa Foundation, setting up a Community Learning Centre. The goal of our team was to provide after-school community English classes to children within the local community. One of the main goals of the centre is to provide basic education to preschoolers from low-income backgrounds. Another is to offer additional education for students already attending school.
Example – After-School Community Education, Sri Lanka – We have also established an after school program for children whose families were displaced by the 2004 Tsunami. This community development program was introduced in 2013, providing free after-school English lessons to local villages. This was set-up with an aim to further English language development, thus heightening future prospects for the students. Classes are structured around the national curriculum and we hire local teachers to work alongside our volunteers.
PMGY is a volunteer organisation founded by volunteers, for volunteers. We are a social enterprise and are not profit-driven. Instead, we work hard to organise high quality, structured placements for an extremely affordable fee. Our fees are 100% transparent, allowing volunteers to know exactly where their money is going to.
Our programs are self-funded, meaning that the volunteer Program Fees financially support the project networks for each of our programs. Neither the local communities we support nor the projects, bear any financial burden by receiving volunteer support.
At PMGY, we strive to make our programs accessible to all motivated travellers, irrespective of their financial capacity. We toil to make our experiences as reachable and accessible without sacrificing the safety and quality of the overall experience. We focus on providing the core requirements of a volunteer program. In short, ensuring that our programs are safe, structured and maintain a positive impact.
Compared to a number of volunteer organisations out there, PMGY’s opportunities are significantly cheaper. Similar organisations offer fancy brochures, run large high-street offices and are usually owned by larger travel organisations with many shareholders. As a result, participants are charged an extremely high price to cover all of these overheads. Therefore, at PMGY, we have embraced the online age by focusing everything around an online presence. We have done away with out-dated brochures and unnecessary high street presence. We are an independent organisation without any outside financial interests.
At PMGY, we work hard to reduce dependency, whilst promoting opportunity. We discourage the direct donations of gifts and money to the projects we support. We appreciate that the intent to provide gifts can only be good. However, it is important that members of the communities we work with do not learn to expect gifts. This is also important since it can create a position where an individual sees themselves as a receiver of charity. This, in turn, can have a negative effect on their psychological well-being and self-esteem.
On the contrary, we, of course, encourage participants to bring resources with them, supporting and aiding them in their volunteer work. Alternatively, you can support the local economy and purchase resources in-country. Nevertheless, such resources can also be left with our PMGY local teams for future international volunteers to use. At the same time, we try to encourage our participants to only use resources that are necessary. Our volunteers should seek to be resourceful and not rely on expensive equipment. This helps to inspire creativity amongst the students, encouraging them to recognise and make the most of what they have. Participants are also discouraged from relying on technology, such as cameras and smartphones. This helps to keep the standard of teaching consistent between participants who perhaps do not have access to the same resources. This also serves to reduce the likelihood of students developing desires for material goods.
Placing volunteers in environments where they work with children and vulnerable adults comes with great responsibility. At PMGY, we have created guidelines in order to protect the vulnerable persons we support. Moreover, establishing an environment that protects our volunteers too.
We limit the amount of time a volunteer can spend with one person. This aims to ensure an emotional bond is not formed. Volunteers eventually leave the placement and we do not wish to cause unnecessary distress to the children, or the volunteer. Volunteers are not permitted to be alone with a child or vulnerable adult.
Not all of our volunteers have experience working with children. It is therefore important that we give our volunteers training on working with children. This includes how to manage discipline and rules of appropriate touching. In the same vein, educating volunteers on how to interact with the children without creating dependency. Furthermore, we brief volunteers on what to do in situations where they suspect that children or vulnerable adults are mistreated.