Original Volunteers

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This is hands down the worst charity I have ever been involved with. My boyfriend signed up to be a member with them, because we were going to take a year off between high school and college. We had each saved up a lot of money and wanted to volunteer to help the poor. He paid over 600 USD for the membership, and a little over 2 weeks later he asked for a refund (the website said refunds are allowed within one month of buying). We had found another organization to work with. They took forever to get back to him, and by the time they did, they said he had requested the refund too late. He replied with documentation of when he bought the membership and when he had asked for the refund. Then original volunteers actually went and changed their website so that you have to ask for a refund within two weeks! I swear, when we bought the membership, it said you had a month to request a refund, and they changed it to two weeks after he made his request. I am disgusted that this organization makes their money by exploiting idealistic young people. I lost a lot of my faith in the goodness of people thanks to them. Please volunteer with a different organization.

Posted: June 9, 2010
0 (worst)
By: Anonymous


You should have registered with the company you wanted to travel with. - You did mess them around.

I have done projects in Ghana, Argentina, and Mexico (Puerto Vallarta) with Original Volunteers.
I would heartily recommend a trip to Ghana or Argentina with Original Volunteers. As for the Puerto Vallarta project, if you have a specific reason to go there (eg specifically want to go to Mexico or have an interest in physiotherapy) then you should be alright there, but otherwise I'd suggest not going to Puerto Vallarta with OV.
I would say that OV provide a "minimum-support" approach. They are useful at things like helping with the practicalities of getting to your location and negotiating any visa difficulties. There will be an established volunteering project and arranged accommodation. However if you're wanting proper training then you've come to the wrong place. That said, I found I was able to make my time productive nonetheless, but you do need to have a bit of get-up-and-go to make sure that you're being productive, and that your time is not wasted.
Some more detailed comments about the specific locations I've been to:
Very laid back environment. Obo is an absolutely wonderful and beautiful village, and doing volunteering here lets you see a phenomenally friendly place that you just wouldn't see in the big cities like Accra.
The volunteer coordinator (Fred) is a friendly laid back guy.
About the work: If you teach in the secondary school, you will see kids getting beaten. I personally thought that if someone was getting a gentle whack with a ruler, then it didn't bother me greatly. But I did also some truly brutal beatings. Not nice. However, the kids are very easy to control in the secondary school. If you teach in the Lisa Finlay primary school, you'll find that that takes a lot of energy. Because you get so little support, it really is a good idea to prepare teaching plans in advance. The only real support you get is from other volunteers. You really could find yourself standing in front of a class and being expected to teach them - if you haven't prepared anything this might be difficult! The information also referred to some sort of AIDS information project - this seemed to be pretty much dead by the time I got there.
Accommodation: The accommodation is quite a nice building, although we didn't have running water most of the time I was there. I actually didn't find it that much of a problem - there was a water tank for cleaning and drinkable water was cheap and readily available. You'll also find that the electricity is prone to going out if you're there at a time when storms happen.
Free time: There's not actually that much to do in Kwahu province. There are some nice walks and things. However, there will be other volunteers around, so we always got up to fun things. And you can travel to tourist attractions on the weekends. I always managed to have a good time in my time off.
Highlights for me: I'll never forget how incredibly friendly everyone was - it was a truly wonderful experience being there.
My experience volunteering in Buenos Aires was a very positive one. I would recommend it to others.
I'll mention a few things to watch out for:
- the volunteer coordinator is quite a "strong" woman. She's a bit of a character. I didn't mind her usually, but some people did find that she wound them up the wrong way. I wouldn't worry about this too much though - she won't be there all the time while you're working, so it shouldn't be a problem.
- there is a quite a lot of theft in Buenos Aires; you'll have to be very careful. One volunteer I heard about was mugged a few days after she arrived. She was then mugged again a few days later. She found this was just too much for her and she had to go home. That said, I was fine myself, and I spoke to loads of other volunteers who were also fine.
The work: The teaching is good fun. The information you get probably tells you that you don't really need to know Spanish. I wouldn't really agree with this. I had some Spanish, and I was just about OK, but if you turned up with no Spanish whatsoever, I think you'd have had a hard time making yourself useful.
How the teaching works: A whole bunch of American and European volunteers bundle into a van and go to an arranged spot in a slum or a poor part of Buenos Aires. The journey may well take an hour, then there may be an hour or two of teaching (it was over a year ago when I did this, so I might be misremembering!) then another hour to get back. There would probably be one or two kids for every volunteer. So you wouldn't be standing in front of a big class, instead you would be doing one-to-one teaching.
Some of the kids were really sweet. Some of them did seem to have a certain brat-like quality to them (despite the fact that they lived in conditions of extreme poverty)
Accommodation: Most people stay with a host family. I stayed in the upstairs part of the office. This was fine for me - basic but adequate accommodation. The bathroom there was a bit mucky, but it didn't put me off. I spoke to other volunteers who were staying with a host family, and they seemed to be well treated.
Free time: Buenos Aires is a great place to go out. I wanted to learn to tango, and I went out almost every night. (I never really learned to tango though!) You do have to be careful about safety in Buenos Aires, but there are other volunteers and support staff around who know where the safe places are. There's also loads of great tourist sights in BA. It was also nice to work with loads of other volunteers, since they were really nice and they were good people to go out and do things with.
My summarised reflections: It was interesting for me to get this insight into Argentina from a perspective that wouldn't normally see as a tourist. OV provided me this at a low cost.
All in all my trip to Mexico was still a positive experience. However lots of things went wrong. Enough that I would recommend that someone try somewhere else instead if possible.
Things that went wrong:
- my airport pickup did not arrive
- after waiting for a while and trying to phone from the payphone at the airport (which just kept swallowing my money) I took a taxi to the address provided by Original Volunteers. Turns out that the address provided by OV was many many months out of date, and it was only because the taxi driver was kind and phoned the volunteer coordinator for me that I found out where I was supposed to go.
- when I got to the correct destination, I found that the girl who was in the seat behind me in the plane had just arrived in the apartment. By chance, 2 people were arriving at the same time, and yet the airport pickup still failed to arrive!
- The volunteer coordinator made several appointments to meet with the new volunteers, but failed to turn up about 5 times in a row. This meant that if I had not getting information from the other volunteers myself, my first week would have been wasted.
- There were a number of thefts in the volunteer apartment while I was there. In a sense, it is perhaps unfair for me to bring this up here - after all this could happen anywhere. And the volunteer coordinator did take it seriously.
- The information provided by OV says that the volunteer administrator speaks English. This is only tenuously true. In fairness, you'll probably only be speaking to her while other volunteers are around, and one of them will probably be able to help translate.
- The information provided by OV says that the flat gets cleaned once a week. This is not true. I don't think of myself as a particularly clean person, but I found the state of the flat difficult to cope with. Ultimately, it just depends on the other volunteers.
That said, Puerto Vallarta is a beautiful place. The kids were lovely, and there were lots of nice tourist things to do, and nice volunteers to socialise with. The nightlife in PV is good. The accommodation is quite nice, apart from the fact that it can get messy and can be overcrowded (while I was there, there were between 6 and 8 people in a 2-bedroom flat)
My overall impressions: I've done a number of volunteering projects - both with OV and other agencies. I think this was the worst of them. That said, it was still a good experience, allowing me to get to know Mexico in a way that would not have been possible as a tourist, and still get to enjoy the touristy aspects of the area.

Posted: December 26, 2009
By: Anonymous


my son is going to ghana in a few weeks. i am a bit worried..any advice. dennis.king4@btopenworld.com
Hiya, me and a friend are looking to volunteer abroad for the first time, we've read loads of bad reviews and wondered what company was the best to go with?