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A Review of My First Volunteer Trip Abroad with IVHQ Italy:
Below, you’ll find a chart with a thorough review and constructive feedback from my first solo experience volunteering abroad, where I worked for a refugee and immigrant non-profit organization in Naples, Italy. I registered through a volunteer company called IVHQ who worked in partnership with International Napoli Network, their in-country volunteer partner in Italy. They were responsible for placing me with Centro Astalli Sud, one of their many affiliated non-profit organizations in Naples.
Before deciding to register with IVHQ Italy, I conducted a great deal of research, especially since this was my first time travelling solo and volunteering abroad. There were many reviews online from volunteers who have had both positive experiences (read more on Go Overseas), as well as negative ones, and some that even accuse IVHQ of capitalizing on the volunteer sector (read more on the Responsible Volunteering website). I made sure to read up on every piece of information I could find before making a decision.
Here’s Why I chose IVHQ Italy for my first volunteer trip anyways…
I chose to register with IVHQ Italy for my first volunteer trip abroad because it was a well-known company that had been around since 2007 and had represented over 80,000 volunteers since that time. Besides my passion for helping others, safety and cost-efficiency were high up on my list of concerns as a first time solo traveller. IVHQ requires that all volunteers have mandatory security background checks and travel insurance as well. IVHQ appeared to be very transparent about their breakdown of program fees as well as guidelines on determining how they recruit their local in-country volunteer partners (for more on best practices on IVHQ health and safety click here). They have in-country coordinators that are available 24/7 on-site that even live in the same volunteer house as you (so someone is always there in the case of any emergencies). Furthermore, they provide airport pick-up service, so that you can expect to meet a representative immediately upon landing. And on your first day of volunteer work, a rep will even escort you and your volunteering partner/s to ensure that you don’t get lost on your first day!
The ability to interact and connect with previous, current, and future volunteers for each program in various countries is what really made this program stand out to me. There are lots of Facebook IVHQ Groups for each program that are very active and provide a great way to connect with other volunteers to share each other’s reviews and experiences. All of the volunteers stay under one roof which forms a tremendous sense of comradery and family like environment, so no one would ever feel alone or left out. For those looking to maintain their privacy, you’re always given the option to request your own room at an additional cost (likely to be at a nearby hostel or bed and breakfast).
The chart below is a full review and breakdown of the IVHQ Italy Refugee and Immigrant program (including pros, cons, tips) based off of my own personal experience:
|Name of Volunteer Organization||CENTRO ASTALLI SUD – A non-profit organization that provides housing and legal support for male refugees and immigrants under the age of 30 (with some exceptions). It provides shelter, basic necessities, schooling, and a small financial subsidy provided by the government. Centro Astalli Sud also serves as a community centre for the people of Grumo, Naples.|
• During my time here, there were 9 boys (all under the age of 18 with the exception of 1 person) from Africa – Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, and Senegal all housed at this location.
|Country||Naples, Italy. Located in Grumo, Nevano. Grumo is a town located just 11 km north of Naples.|
|Responsibilities & Duties Performed||• Provided counselling & legal support needed for migrants seeking humanitarian asylum (helped in writing applications, interview preps, translations, etc.)|
• Provided support to directors and coordinators with the administration
• Provided emotional support and guidance (helping in coping & adjusting to a new country, culture shock)
• Supervised after-school activities (including teaching English) for the children of the Grumo Community Centre
• Distributed and sorted food and clothing donations
• Cooked lunch and performed general maintenance of the centre
|My Volunteer Schedule||• Monday – Friday (afternoon shift)|
• On orientation day, you will be assigned a specific shift depending on your program (morning, noon, or evening)
• On an average day, I would typically begin at noon or 1 pm and stay until about 4 pm or 5 pm. I would often
|Did I feel like I made a difference?||Yes!|
It took a couple of weeks to begin to feel like I was actually making progress with the boys that I was assigned
I made an effort to stay longer hours and to make a conscious choice to show that I sincerely cared about the
|My Most Memorable Moments||• Taking the boys to their first day of school in Italy|
• On our first field trip around Naples (some have only seen the area of Grumo), I was excited to watch their
faces light up and watching them see the beautiful parts of Naples for the first time meant everything to me.
• On my last day of the program, I treated them to authentic African cuisine at a local restaurant they recommended, called Mama Africa. They got so homesick and missed eating certain spices from their own
culture, so on my last
day, that’s exactly where we went to eat our last meal together. It was also my first time eating African food as
well and this shared experience made it even more memorable.
Program Fees & Coverage
|Program Fees (convert prices to your local currency www.xe.com):|
1) Minimum requirement of 4 weeks (different min. requirements for all programs) – $1,145 (USD),
2) Mandatory registration fee of $299 (USD) for all programs in addition to program fees
3) A 5% international banking fee is added at point of payment. Coverage:
|Other Extra Costs to Consider||• Visa, flights, travel insurance (mandatory), vaccinations, criminal background check (mandatory).|
• Spending money on shopping, in-country trips or tours, eating out, any unexpected emergencies, etc.
• Commuting Costs: Don’t assume that where you’re staying is close to where you’ll be working. It took about
2.5 – 3 hours round trip every day of riding the metro, then taking the train, and walking about 10 minutes to
get to my placement.
• Transportation back to the airport upon completing the volunteer program.
|• Volunteers are placed in dormitory-style housing located in central Naples near the Metro Station (this location may or may not be close to your volunteer placement – email in advance).|
• Expect to sleep on bunk beds that can accommodate 4 to 8 volunteers per room (same sex) with basic bedding provided.
• You will share a communal bathroom with volunteers of the same gender that are equipped with western style
toilets and showers.
• There is someone that cleans the accommodation daily, however, you are expected to be respectful and keep
your room and shared facilities tidy.
• The kitchen (fridge, table, stove), living room lounge area and on-site laundry facilities are available for use.
• Wi-Fi will be available in the volunteer house (some areas have a stronger connection and other parts of the
house may not have any connection at all).
*If you wish to arrange a private room at additional costs, accommodation upgrades are available at a local
bed & breakfast.
|FOOD||Meals are provided daily Monday through Friday. Only breakfast is provided on Saturday and Sunday.|
• Breakfast: Provided at the volunteer home (cereal, bread, fruits, coffee, and tea).
Read more for food around Naples: “Naples Local Food Guide: 7 Neapolitan Dishes You Must Eat and the Best Places to Find Them!”
|Mostly in their early 20’s. Less than 20% older than 30 years old.|
Did I feel safe as a first-time solo
|I felt extremely safe! On my first day of volunteer work, a coordinator personally escorted myself and my assigned partner to our volunteer placement. When travelling at night, always go with another volunteer or travel with a group.|
|Excellent support, at least one co-ordinator lives with you in the same accommodation and is available|
24/7 in case of any emergencies or if you have any questions about the city.
|Other Tips||E-mail co-ordinators in advance for any special requests|
Parts of the IVHQ Italy Volunteer Program that were my least favourite
As for the fees and program costs, although it is much lower than some other volunteer organizations I’ve seen advertised online, it wasn’t as cheap after the currency conversion from US to Canadian dollars, plus the 5% additional international fee (see above chart for the breakdown of fees).
IVHQ does not like to reveal or share information of their local partners, even after you’ve paid and registered with them. It isn’t until you are already overseas and on your first day of orientation that they tell you which organization you’ll be placed with. They do this because IVHQ essentially works as the “middleman” and partners with local non-profit companies around the world. They work similarly to an HR agency; they place you at a volunteer organization and make money through program fees (this is outlined on their website). I understand that this is their business model, but I would have liked more transparency and information in advance about which organization I was assigned to. This would also have allowed me to prep any materials in advance!
There was an additional cost for local transportation on top of the fees of the program I had to pay in order to get to my volunteer placement. It required a commute of 3 hours of travel per day to get to and from work, and I had to take both the Metro and the train, for 4 to 5 days a week. This was not communicated to me in advance due to their non-disclosure policy.
Would I recommend IVHQ Italy to others?
Yes, I would recommend IVHQ Italy. I felt completely safe, especially as a first-time solo (female) traveller. It’s great for young people in their 20’s, but I’ve also roomed with other volunteers in their 50’s as well. It is an excellent way to meet like-minded volunteers from around the world, which was one of the best parts of this program. However, I would have liked a little more skill-based work as someone in my mid- 30’s with a substantial amount of relevant work experience already. More structure would have been preferred at the organization I worked for, but this didn’t take away from my overall perspective. It was one of the best decisions I could have ever made –taking the leap of faith to give back leaves me with no regrets whatsoever (read more: “5 Tips to Make a Real Impact on your Volunteer Work Abroad”)! Yes, there was a program fee, but it ensured my safety and the communication between the IVHQ staff was excellent.