So, there are a lot of people out there who are looking to do some responsible travelling/ volunteerin/ wwoofing/ whatever you want to call it and it's difficult to know where to start. In the last three years I've done quite a lot of travelling and thought I'd give some of my own tips.
Firstly, it's really tempting to start with the big companies. They have great marketing campaigns, they target the universities and colleges, are based in the UK or America and you know that they've got a good support network in place once you get out there. This can all be very seductive for the first time young traveller, particularly if you're going out on your own. There are a couple of things you should think about before signing up with one of these companies, though:
1) Do you want to spend hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands, in order to help people? 2) Can you be sure that the charity/ organisation you want to help is getting a decent cut of the money or is it going to the company? 3) Will you be there long enough to really help? A couple of weeks can be more damaging than helpful, particularly with vulnerable children.
Another popular option is to use sites such as workaway and workabroad to find individual families and small organisations. This generally is an awful lot cheaper or free, and you can be much more involved so you get a more personal and rewarding experience. Some considerations with this:
1) Are you comfortable with going out to stay with an unknown family? 2) Are you able to make contact with them before you go - Skype, email, phone etc. 3) Are they clear on what type of work they want you to do?
It is possible to find an inbetween, and this is where I've had my best experience. Small, grassroots organisation give a personal experience where you can really get involved and see where you work and money is going. Generally they have homestay accommodation, which means you can get a real insight into life in that country. The main problem is that they are very difficult to find and will take some serious research, but it is really worth putting the effort in to find them. They generally focus on social media, word-of-mouth and blogs to promote themselves, so use chat to friends and try and follow a trail to get straight to the organisation itself. If you put in a little extra time and energy, the outcome will be far better and more valuable.