Ecology volunteerism

1. Please tell me more about ecotourism volunteering and how this makes your organisation different from others.

The activities you do whilst volunteering in ecotourism can be very diverse. The main role of an ecolodge is to attract volunteers. Therefore volunteering usually involves a lot of interaction with many people from all walks of life. In fact it's the people you meet is often the most rewarding aspect. You will socialise with the tourists during the day by helping during tours and at night. You may also help with daily chores such as cleaning rooms and serving the tourists behind a bar or at dinner. Depending on your qualifications and experience you could even help with ecotourism development plans, website marketing or improving the environmental impact of the lodge. Don't expect to be with a large group of other volunteers as the lodges will often only provide enough space for 2 to 3 volunteers at anyone time. However as you are providing labour for the lodge volunteering is often very cheap and quite often free!.

2. You mentioned that all of your projects are free or low cost as compared to others who sponsor volunteering. How were you able to achieve this and what made you decide to not charge a lot to volunteer?

I tried to volunteer before but could not afford it. This did not put me off so I approached many projects but smaller ones and asked to volunteer for them; I eventually decided to volunteer at an ecolodge in Borneo. I enjoyed myself so much I decided to try and allow more people to have this opportunity so I started Ecoteer.com. The projects on our site are largely self-financed and don't need volunteers to keep them running. Therefore the volunteers are a bonus and in return they offer the experience at a reduced price.

3. The 'Advertise Yourself' feature of your site was different and interesting. What is its intended purpose and does it help volunteers with their job searching?

This feature has a dual purpose. By allowing the volunteers to promote themselves it gives the projects a chance to hand pick volunteers for particular purposes. The other reason was so projects not on the Ecoteer site could find suitable Ecoteer volunteers. This feature of the site will be adapted into a forum/message board format when our site is updated.

4. What might a volunteer gain from the volunteering abroad experience with your company that they may not get from a domestic volunteer experience or from some other organisation?

The difference people focus on is our price however Ecoteer is much more. It is totally up to the volunteer and the old cliche 'the more you put in the more you get out'. This is so true for Ecoteering. As quite often the number of volunteers is low on our projects this allows for experiences tailored to you and your skills. Plus the people you will be working with will often be locals. This allows you to become immersed with new cultures and languages - that's something you don't get with many other volunteer organisations. This does not include the tourists!

5. What traits might a volunteer gain from the experience that would be appealing to a future employer?

Living in another country for a substantial time will be beneficial for any future employment - demonstrating maturity, ability to adapt, getting along with people from different backgrounds and to learn new things. However if you volunteer at a project in a similar sector to your future employment the benefits of endless - including on job experience, commitment to the sector and gaining good contacts. Often it's the people you know that opens doors to future employment

6. Your organic farming program is unusual. Please tell more about this program and how it might benefit a student who is a biology or conservation major.

Again like ecotourism lodges, the organic farms are in need of hands-on-deck so will often allow people to volunteer for virtually free. Organic farms allow the volunteers to learn and put into practice some of the things they have learnt during their courses. The difference between theory and real life, especially in conservation, can be quite different and will open up new understandings and mind sets for the volunteers. Hands on experience is essential and the organic farms can help the volunteers to bridge this gap from text book to practice.

7. Your resources section offers a lot of information for volunteers. Do you offer any additional training or materials to volunteers to help prepare them?

Unfortunately we don't offer specific additional training but the new site will have a forum so members can talk amongst one another to help pass on tips and advice. Saying that, we built the website to be information thick so the volunteers can answer most questions from our site. The country info is particularly useful containing all sorts of info about the countries we have projects in. see here

8. One focus of your volunteering includes teaching. Do you help with TEFL certifications?

Yes one of our partners offers TEFL training. You can find the link at Teaching Placements

9. Is there one area of the world where you are more of a presence than another? If so, what roles do volunteers play here and what should they expect their duties to be?

Two of our most successful projects are in Costa Rica and we have many others in Central America so I suppose this would be our strongest region. The Costa Rica projects are very different. One is a turtle project based on the Pacific Coast of CR. The volunteers help with collecting eggs and running the hatchery. Volunteers can stay for 1 week to 6 months. Learning Spanish and environmental education are other feathers this project has.

www.ecoteer.com/placements/0090The second Costa Rican project is on the Eastern Coast and based at a Yoga retreat / ecolodge. Many volunteers have come back singing the praises of this lodge and the peace and tranquility once you are there. Duties range from joining in daily Yoga classes to serving customers at dinner and helping on excursions in the rain forest.www.ecoteer.com/placements/0035

10. On your estimate, how much does the volunteering experience affect the jobs of those who volunteer later on? [i.e. speed of placement, desirability to employer, having key characteristics that might enable them to perform better at work.

Volunteering with Ecoteer definitely helps people to gain employment a lot quicker. Ecoteering allows the volunteer to draw upon real life experiences when demonstrating key skills in applications and interviews. This undoubtedly gives you a real-edge. However I believe knowing people is a vital factor for finding employment in the conservation, humanitarian and ecotourism industries and volunteering with Ecoteer can help you build a substantial network, especially at ecolodges where tourists are coming and going every week.

I would like to say thank you and I hope Ecoteer allows more people to discover new cultures and friends and of course future employment when real differences can be mind to this world.