Last week we published an article on volunteering abroad, filling you in on your options on how to take part in a volunteer program without spending horrendous amounts of money. In reply to the article reached us an email by a girl from Norway called Sigrid Bjorbekkmo who told us about her experience with a program offering volunteering in India for money.

This is what she wrote…

Dear Travelettes,

I read your article about volunteer work and was inspired to share some of my experiences on the subject, especially since you mentioned volunteering through organisations that demand money. I signed up for a volunteer program in India last year with an organization called IDEX (Indian development exchange program) and paid a ridiculously large sum of money to participate in it. My first thought was that the money would probably go to the projects and the organization in India, which would be a nice thing. When I got there that wasn’t really the case and it became quite clear that a major part of my money would never leave Norway and the exchange organisation that sent me to India.

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My experience started with a week in the area around Mumbai trekking and doing yoga in an Ashram, which was a nice experience except that the leaders from the organization didn’t really give us any information about the following weeks, which we where promised back in Norway. When we got to the camp, our home for the next couple of months, the whole group felt kind of lied to since the pictures the organization had been sending out didn’t at all corresponded with the reality. We were promised a camp right on the beach with palm threes and white sand and instead we where placed in the middle of the woods 20 min away from civilization. We got to pick between different social projects like working at a orphanage, old age home, school or kindergarten, which were all nice initiatives but again the help we got from the staff wasn’t really enough as they hadn’t kept decent record of what the last volunteers had been working on. Each project lasted two and a half hours, which meant that we had a lot of dead time sitting in the camp. Only after the first week a lot of my fellow volunteers decided to leave earlier than planned, despite the fact that a refund of the money was out of the question.

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Me and my friend left after six weeks, having originally paid for two months, and started or life as backpackers through the south of India. As we travelled we came over a lot of organizations seeking volunteers that instead of demanding money offered shelter and food for free. I don’t wont to scare anybody from doing volunteer work as I think it’s a great way to meet new friends, have new experiences, and get to know a totally different culture. Personally, I will never forget some of the girls I worked with and I am very happy for the experience of teaching English to people who doesn’t have the possibly to learn it in school. If I sometime in the future decide to do volunteer work again (which is most likely) I would rather buy a plain ticket and find a program on my own than through an organization that demands big sums of money for you working for free, which is pretty ridiculous. The rest of my trip through Asia was pretty awesome but I regret having spent that much money on my first six weeks in India when I could have done the same thing for free. India is a very cheap country compared to western standards a the amount of money I paid to the program would probably get me through four months of travelling instead of just six weeks.

Best wishes and good luck to all future volunteers!

Sigrid Bjorbekkmo
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all photos by Sigrid

If you wish to share your experience on volunteering abroad please email us at feedback@travelettes.net