PMGY is an international volunteer placement organisation that connects people to grass-roots projects in the developing world. Our aim is to bring people together for a common good.
Some of the Long Terms Benefits for communities worldwide:
Learning and improving English both written and oral is generally seen as key to educational development and prosperity. We provide free structured after school English lessons in a number of our destinations.
Local employment – Our local team expands to include cooks, cleaners, co-ordinators at projects, transport drivers and these employment opportunities are underpinned through the set ups we create and develop with our partner countries.
Wider community/Economic benefit – A lot of our destinations are in local towns where small independent shops, private taxis, tuk tuks, local restaurants and businesses all benefit from increased trade that comes with volunteers in the local area.
Long lasting legacies created in the community for the community to benefit from. For example medical camps in India, an eye clinic in a Sri Lankan hospital, womens empowerment programmes and restoring temples.
Our organisation was founded on the principal of responsible travel. The following policies outline our approach to addressing a number of issues that are important to our long-term sustainability.
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. Our programmes address issues that have been identified by local communities as opportunities for volunteers to provide valuable input and tangible results.
Before embarking on a new programme we carefully assess the credentials of the project we intend to support, 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 UK team will travel to the location. During these visits we meet with the projects we intend to support and various community members to see firsthand how we can help and manage their expectations of what can be achieved. We seek advice from community members to ensure that, as an organisation, we do not negatively affect the employment structure of the community that we work in. For example, all our teaching volunteers will only work as an assistant to the existing local teacher.
Each aspect of the programme goes through a rigorous evaluation and risk-assessment from staying in the volunteer accommodation to using public transport and getting to know the local community. Furthermore, all the projects must comply with our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy.
This extensive selection process is essential to ensuring responsible and sustainable travel. It’s our commitment to our volunteers to ensure that their work will have a positive, tangible impact and that they are comfortable, secure and as well-supported as possible. Furthermore, it is our responsibility to the projects and people we work with to make sure we can live up to their expectations and fully support their needs.
Our focus is to mobilise people of all backgrounds to encourage a social and culturally diverse mix. But we also have a duty to ensure volunteer skills are matched with community needs providing the right support. We have a duty to the projects we work with to ensure we place volunteers that are passionate, wholesome and committed.
To join PMGY you must apply for the position you wish to undertake. They are not book-and-go placements. Our experienced team will assess each application to ensure suitability for the role, we may suggest an alternative programme, or reject applications. Each volunteer must also provide an original copy of a Criminal Background Check and any supporting documentation prior to placement. Without these you wouldn’t be allowed to work with children in the UK, so why would it be ok to work without them abroad? Each and every PMGY volunteer must also agree to and sign our Child and Vulnerable Adult Protection Policy.
It is vital that we recruit and train our volunteers so that their skill set matches the needs of the project. This includes giving them background information on their placement, what volunteers have achieved before them and how they can actively contribute to the on-going aims and objectives of the project. We have strong relationships with the communities in which we work and therefore; our role is to ensure volunteers effectively integrate by providing them with information regarding the local culture, religion and customs.
A key aspect of what we do is to manage volunteer expectations. We do this by giving realistic and detailed descriptions on our website and through honest verbal and online communication. That way from the moment a prospective volunteer gets in touch they have a clear understanding of what the role entails. We also provide:
Each volunteer is provided with a 40+ page detailed pre-departure volunteer handbook. This handbook contains everything you need to know – from what to pack, to how to obtain a visa, to local language guides. It gives information on what to expect, local customs, accepted behaviour and how to make a positive impact.
Pre Departure Webinars
These webinars are run on a fortnightly basis, by our experienced UK team, who have direct experience of volunteering and travelling in the locations we operate. All volunteers are welcome to participate and encouraged to ask questions on anything about their trip.
Our UK team are on-hand 24/7 to provide support to our volunteers before they depart for their placement.
Social Media Support
Volunteers are encouraged to communicate and learn from one another so they are well educated and informed before they set off. Whether it’s joining the Facebook page for the country they will visit or getting in touch with other volunteers travelling at the same time, it’s a perfect platform to inform, advise and manage all expectations.
We partner with GoGetFunding so volunteers can set up a professional fundraising page to help them with financing their trip and also raise funds for the projects.
The feedback from past volunteers is invaluable to those volunteers setting off. They can read about others experiences in detail as well as travel tips and advice on how to ensure they can make the most of their skills and time.
Once the projects are selected our in-country teams become active community members. They are constantly connecting with the community, projects, volunteers and the people we are working to help. As a team, we continue to ask:
Through an open and reflective dialogue we are able to build trust with the host communities and have been welcomed as part of their community and not simply as tourists passing through.
We use social media platforms such as Skype, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for daily contact which has been paramount in helping to further develop a deeper sense of trust and connection with our volunteer and partner network. It’s also used to spread the word on responsible travel and gain awareness of what it should involve.
Our work doesn’t stop there though. Achieving sustainability is a continuous process and requires constant monitoring of impacts, introducing the necessary preventive and/or corrective measures when required. So the PMGY UK and in-country team work continually together to reflect on:
The UK team also visit each project annually to formulate new goals and revise current protocol if necessary. Throughout every stage we monitor and evaluate the impact, effectiveness and sustainability of our work.
Leaving a lasting legacy
One of the greatest challenges for all volunteer organisations is how do they keep the projects sustainable. PMGY place over 2,000 volunteers each year and have a regular supply of volunteers throughout the year. So there is always someone who can continue with the work and therefore maintain a consistent level of backing. We also manage the number of volunteers each programme receives to keep it consistent, capping volunteer numbers when a project reaches capacity.
PMGY’s programmes are self-funded with the volunteer’s programme fees financially supporting the projects in our network. The communities and projects we support bear no financial burden for receiving the support of our volunteers. Using our set up in Delhi, India as an example:
Isabella School – We set up a school for special needs children covering the costs of renting the classroom space, all equipment and employing specialist trained teachers. The school supports seven children from impoverished families who could not afford specialist care.
Alice in Wonderland Children’s Home (AIW) – This home was set up to care for eight orphaned children, employing staff and covering all the children’s needs such as clothing, food, education and social life.
Medical Outreach Camps – These camps are designed to offer primary healthcare and medical check-ups to residents of the slum. They are run and financed by programme fees and ensure free care for the community.
International volunteers provide a welcome source of income and employment opportunities within the local community. Examples include local shopkeepers, transportation providers, tour guides, hoteliers etc. In each destination our direct-workforce is made up of 5-10 people (they continue to grow) and are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity and age. The majority of our locations are set up in small communities who do not benefit from traditional tourism and this helps contribute towards the even distribution of income and economic growth in the region.
We recognise that there are a number of ways that we as an organisation can reduce the environmental impact of our work starting with training our volunteers before they set-off on their placements. The training ranges from warning volunteers about purchasing un-ethically sourced products; to giving practical tips that include bringing reusable water bottles and drinking boiled water as opposed to purchasing plastic water bottles. In our accommodation we implement measures to reduce our energy and water consumption. We also avoid, where possible, the use of harmful products such as pesticides and cleaning products and always opt for environmentally friendly alternatives where we can.
Example: Sea Turtle Conservation, Sri Lanka
In 2013 PMGY initiated our very first conservation programme establishing our own Sea Turtle sanctuary in Ambalangoda to combat the increase in poaching of turtle eggs. The sanctuary protects and rehabilitates sea turtles as well as providing educational outreach sessions to try and increase awareness on the issue.
Example: Elephant Sanctuary, Sri Lanka
Having purchased our own land to home mistreated and disabled elephants, we fund all the costs associated with their care. The focus of the project is on volunteers providing daily hands on care, love and affection for the elephants.
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. As a consequence there is no one-size fits all model and we must continue to evolve our approach to meet the changing needs of the projects.
Through careful research, community engagement and hiring of local staff, we are able to gain a strong grasp of how to prepare our volunteers to effectively integrate into the host location. During the initial ‘orientation’ period in country, we inform our volunteers about the local culture, cultural differences and language. We also implement a strict dress code and code of conduct policy to minimise the potential negative impact of international volunteers in the community.
Whilst we understand that our volunteers bring a range of skills to the projects, it is important that we transfer this knowledge to the local people. Our volunteers impact extends beyond the actual time they spend volunteering. We implement this knowledge transfer within our education programmes by encouraging volunteers to spend time improving the local teacher’s English skills. By focusing time on improving the teacher’s English skills and introducing new teaching techniques we are improving the quality of education the children receive on a long-term basis. Empowering the local community will instigate long-term development far more than the simple placement of short-term volunteers.
Example: After-School Community Education, Sri Lanka
We established an after school programme for children displaced by the 2004 Tsunami providing free after-school English lessons in the afternoons. Classes are structured around the national curriculum and we hire local teachers to work alongside our volunteers.
We discourage the direct donations of gifts and money to the projects we support. It is important to PMGY that children, and other people whom we work with, do not learn to expect gifts or hand-outs from volunteers. We believe that gift and money giving creates a position where children and other people see themselves as receivers of charity, which can have a negative effect on their psychological well-being and self esteem.
Of course we encourage volunteers to bring resources to help with their volunteer work. This can be left with PMGY for future volunteers to use. We also encourage volunteers to be resourceful and not rely on expensive equipment. This teaches the children to be creative and make the most of what they have. Furthermore, we discourage bringing expensive items such as cameras and smartphones to the projects. This reduces the likelihood of the people we work with gaining desires for material goods, which they can never obtain.
As an organisation founded by volunteers for volunteers, PMGY is a social enterprise. We are not profit-driven and as a result are able to organise high quality structured placements for an extremely affordable fee. Furthermore, our fees are 100% transparent so volunteers know exactly where there money is going.
PMGY’s programmes are self-funded with the volunteer’s programme fees financially supporting the projects in our network. The communities and projects we support bear no financial burden for receiving the support of our volunteers.
Our aim is to make our programmes accessible to motivated travellers irrespective of their financial capacity. We focus on providing the core requirements of a volunteer programme: safety, structure and sustainability.
Compared to the large majority of volunteer organisations out there, even most charities and not-for-profits, PMGY’s opportunities are significantly cheaper. Furthermore, as our reviews will testify, our support service and structured programmes are second to none.
Placing volunteers in environments where they will be working with children and responsible adults comes with great responsibility on our part. PMGY have created the following guidelines in order to protect the children and vulnerable adults we support, as well as our volunteers.
We limit the amount of time a volunteer can spend with one person in order 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 of working with children and therefore it is important that we give our volunteers training on working with children. This includes how to manage discipline, rules of appropriate touching and how to interact with the children without creating dependency. Furthermore, we brief volunteers on what to do in situations where they suspect that the children or vulnerable adults are mis-treated.