In the summer of 2007 I was trying to figure out what to do with my time. Like most 23 year old college students, my primary concern was finding something to pump up my resume, but I had been too lazy to look for an internship and I really just wanted to travel anyways. So I came across this concept of going abroad to volunteer. Check resume pumpage, check travel.
So my ex and I began searching around and found that even though a lot of these places could really use help from volunteers, it wasn't that easy to go help them. In fact, I had to pay a ton of money just to volunteer! I thought this was slightly bogus, but paid something like 800 bucks to be put in touch with a school in this place called Bagamoyo, Tanzania. I'd get to stay with a host family, and the volunteer placement organization would even donate some of my fee to the school. Check cool cultural experience in some place I'd never heard of, check feeling okay about paying $800 to work for free.
What was initially an attempt to boost my job prospects after college ended up shaping the next four years of my life.
First off, a few things I realized on that trip:
- College students who volunteer at random projects throughout the developing world have great intentions, but their impact is usually limited due to mismatched skills/needs.
- The total benefit derived from a international volunteer exchange follows the 80/20 rule. 80% goes to the volunteer, 20% to the organization. This is mostly due to the problem in #1, but also because the benefit to the volunteer is really immeasurable. Basically, the experience will change you're whole perspective on shit.
- Paying a bunch of money to go volunteer also follows the 80/20 rule: about 20% legit, 80% bogus. The placement organization did help me find Jimmy and the African Childcare Center, and get to and from the airport safely. The guys also helped me with some tourism logistics.
- And finally, it's my opinion that there is a better way to do it.
I created Volunteer Alliance so that Community Based Organizations get a lasting sustainable benefit from hosting volunteers, Volunteers have more impact and therefore a more meaningful experience while traveling, and Volunteer Placement Organizations have a standardized means of providing transparency for the services that they provide.
This wasn't all me by the way, I've got an amazing team of people-- other volunteers who I met on that same trip-- who have helped me shape this organization while sipping chai in Jimmy's living room and who have continued to persevere and bring us to where we are today.
Getting this site up is a pretty big freakin' deal to me, so I'd like to acknowledge and thank the following people, for the following reasons (in no particulate order):
Rebecca Corey, for your fearlessness, honesty, friendship and perseverance. You are such an asset to our team, a close buddy who I can tell anything, and an inspiration to all those you meet. You seriously have one of the biggest hearts out there and I'm privileged to call you my friend.
Noemi Spinazzi, for always speaking your mind, putting your heart into everything you do, and sticking with us when it seemed like this day wouldn't come. Noemi is one of the smartest and hardest working girls I know, and is going to be an amazing doctor very soon.
Ara Vehian, for giving V\ your time even when you have some crazy amount of med school work to do, and for all the great ideas you've contributed over the years.
Deepa Jahagirdar, for your support and contributions. Though you weren't at Jimmy's house, you always felt like a member of the original crew. We miss you and hope to meet again some day.
Tash, for the early days, when I really needed the confidence to keep pushing.
Cameron West, to whom I fully credit the site getting done before 2020 to. You are the man, this is just the beginning-- looking forward to our adventure.
Brooke Dawson, for your support and love. You're my special girl.
Dan Vallentyne, for a killer design, and for putting up with all my revisions and indecision. SOOO glad to have you on the team. We gotta get you out to Africa soon.
I look forward to the future volunteers who I haven't met yet. We're kickin' ass and having fun, so if you've read this far, I hope you'll join us.
Finally, a picture says a thousand words. Here is our site's progression throughout the years:
2008 (mock up):