Why is VWA unique and what does that mean for you or your organisation?
Volunteer West Africa is a a non-ideological, non-political, not-for-profit, non-governmental organisation (NGO). We finance and implement ethical and sustainable development projects in Ghana, West Africa.
1) For Individual Volunteers VWA operates a Daycare Centre for vulnerable children which provides free education, food, healthcare, family support and social services to pre-school-aged children from across the local communities. The centre has been credited by the local Ghanaian Government Director of Health Services for reducing infant mortality and malnutrition in the surrounding communities. Central to the successful operation of the centre is the involvement of international volunteers. An exciting range of high-quality and ethical volunteering programmes are available at the centre, which allow volunteers to share and develop their expertise and experience across a vast range of disciplines and areas of development study, or - alternatively - volunteers can select from one of over 20 other volunteering programmes which VWA operates, again covering a multitude of disciplines, but to be completed in our partner institutions, schools, or communities.
2) For Universities, Development Societies, & NGO Partnerships VWA is a not-for-profit NGO BEFORE it is a volunteering organisation. We are a technical team with a focus on serious, ethical, sustainable international development, and so we are often able to fill a gap that the 'voluntourism' or mainstream volunteering sector cannot. We are flexible and implementation focused, so our volunteers, partner universities, and partner NGOs/organisations from across the international community collaborate with us using us, essentially, as their service deliverer.
We have a network and team in Ghana that span local/national government, we are partnered with the government health and education departments and other leading INGOs, and we are tied very closely to our partner communities through a constant presence and the regular needs assessments which we undertake to ensure our projects meet their needs. We are a constant and widely recognised local development actor in the region. So while our volunteers and partners across the globe focus on fund raising, exploring potential project ideas, and planning their placements with us in Africa, we are the facilitator they use to translate those early phases in to completing the actual project delivery up-to and when they arrive. We organise the logistics, engage the communities, implement and deliver the project, and review and monitor thereafter for impact and sustainability.
This means for any potential relationship with any partner organisation, we will be able to integrate your members interests in any development/education/healthcare field in to a relevant and rewarding project that we have in our sights, are already planning, or, alternatively, that we can design on a a unique basis to represent the expertise, scope and limitations of your particular group. In short, we can pair the interests and ambitions of your volunteer(s) with a suitable project, and then we can work with you on the design and planning but also manage all aspects of hosting your volunteer placement effectively (Including: pre-departure briefings, safety and cultural in-country orientation, transportation, accommodation, food, safety/security, accommodation, end of placement de-brief, and so on) as well as, of course, implementing and delivering the project itself by guiding and managing the process in-full.
With us, there is NO middle man. We are your host, the NGO and charity you are working with and supporting, and the team who will plan and deliver your development project alongside you. And we are 100% not-for-profit!
The values partner organisations seek in VWA are usually sustainability; an effective assessment of the projects impact and outcomes; the management of risk; and the need for your members to benefit from the experience whilst also ensuring that their expertise and knowledge is effectively transferred to the local community... and these are all factors built in to every project or programme VWA undertakes. Many organisations claim the same but it is in the translation of these policy-led statements in to practical, operational approaches where many organisations sadly fall short. For example, VWA would not use international volunteers to undertake work that could be done just as effectively by local people as it deprives the local economy of employment opportunities (so why send a team of unskilled students to Africa to paint an orphanage when there are local skilled painters desperately seeking paid employment?), we do not allow volunteers on short-term placements to work with vulnerable children (so as to avoid further disruption and potential emotional harm to the child), and we ensure that all of our projects are delivered with the full involvement, approval and participation of the host community to ensure a sense of local pride and ownership.
Our volunteers are there alongside us to fill the knowledge or expertise gaps which otherwise prevent our local communities from solving problems or overcoming the challenges they face without outside intervention.
How to avoid a disappointing volunteering experience
Volunteer West Africa is an ethical volunteering NGO for volunteers who are serious about delivering real and positive change to children and families in West Africa.
We are not a commercial volunteering agent or tourism operator; we do not offer volunteering packages for profit; we do not place volunteers in to poorly planned projects or in to sub-standard accommodation; we do not approve applications from potential volunteers who are not suitable for the volunteer placement in question, and we do not allow our responsibilities towards our volunteers to interfere with our responsibilities towards the West African children and families whom we support.
VWA is one of a very small group of organisations which fully complies with the ethical guidelines for volunteering organisations as published, here, on the International Ecotourism Website.
Please be part of the solution and not part of the problem.
What will you be doing if you volunteer with VWA?
Volunteer West Africa offers a broad and exciting range of opportunities for international volunteers, from all backgrounds and skill levels, young or old, to get involved in. And unlike commercial volunteer organisations, that offer generic volunteer packages, VWA will always work with you to design a unique volunteer placement that aligns your individual interests, experience and skills with the aims and objectives of the work that we are undertaking at that time.
From teaching lessons, to one-to-one tutoring in Mathematics, to running structured educational-play groups for nursery children, to distributing donated materials to underprivileged communities, to delivering health & hygiene workshops to parents, to designing a 6-month Polio vaccination programme, to teaching unemployed parents business or career development skills... VWA has the local knowledge and expertise to help you complete a volunteer placement that makes the most of your individual skills and ambitions.
Perhaps most importantly, VWA understands that your experience of volunteering in Africa must be challenging and rewarding. If your experience with Volunteer West Africa is a good one, you will continue to benefit the children and families that we support long after your volunteer placement with us comes to an end; from inspiring other potential volunteers by sharing your stories and experiences; to sustaining important relationships with the members of the community your volunteering placement has introduced you to; to acting as an ambassador or fundraiser for the people of West Africa in future; to gaining experience or motivation that drives you forward to help improve the lives of children in other places... if you find great reward in your volunteer experience with Volunteer West Africa then we will have found a friend for life in you. For that reason, we take our responsibility towards your volunteer experience very seriously.
"During my trip I interviewed so many volunteers and teams who felt the organisations they signed up to were just middle-men concerned with taking their fee rather than actually helping the people of Africa. These homogenised 'off-the-shelf' volunteer and gap year travel experiences seem to be all too common now... the current generation's version of the package holiday. So if you are thinking about volunteering, I would recommend that you take a look at organisation's like VWA ('Volunteer West Africa'). Volunteering should be about real development, real ethics, and real professionalism, not well-meaning tourism"
- Jenny Haasgill, Research Fellow at the University of Sheffield, UK.