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IVPA Updates for the Field 7.17.15 – Research!

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If you follow this blog, you’ll know the last blog post had some pretty interesting news articles on international volunteering. If you’re looking to do some more (and just as interesting) reading, I highly recommend reviewing these pieces of research (credit for the find goes to our Executive Director, Ms. Genevieve Brown).

Academic Literature of Volunteer Tourism reviewed a 2014 academic book on volunteer tourism, “Volunteer Tourism – Popular Humanitarianism in Neoliberal Times”. The review gives a thorough summary as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

Stanford’s Principles of Ethical Service

Stanford has a list of principles for ethical service that are not unlike IVPA’s Principles and Practices and are great guide to review.

As always, we hope you enjoy the read!

IVPA Updates for the Field 7.17.15 – News!

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Hello all!

If you do not know already, our Executive Director, Ms. Genevieve Brown, periodically updates IVPA members and staff about international volunteering making the news. Here are a few articles to definitely check out!

The first one is by the Huffington Post, who posted a lengthy infographic on how volunteering can get you get your dream job. Check it out here!

The second piece of news comes from Reuters, who recently published an article expressing concern over the international volunteer industry’s expansion. The article also calls for more regulation on international volunteering.

And lastly, US News Travel published the article Voluntourism 101: The Dos and Don’t for Planning a Volunteer Vacation. The article delineates some differences between an international volunteer organization and voluntourism.

All the news stories are hyperlinked to their respective stories. Enjoy reading!

A Response to Criticism | by Genevieve Brown, IVPA Executive Director

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There has been a lot of criticism lately about the growth of voluntourism and the lack of standards on volunteering bodies. Although some criticism may be valid, it is unfair (and inaccurate) to broadly generalize all volunteering bodies as unregulated. Here is our very own IVPA Executive Director’s response to the criticism – I highly encourage giving it a read. Thank you for your dedication and passion to the world of volunteering abroad, Ms. Genevieve!


What About Regulation?

International volunteerism has come under fire. Articles and blog posts seem to pop up every week criticizing volunteer travelers’ motives and methods. Criticism tends to lump all types of service abroad into one group and cast a whole spectrum of organizations   in a negative light. And yet, not all criticism can be dismissed. The voluntourism industry continues to grow and there are organizations that cut corners.

A recent Reuters article quotes Simon Hare, development director of British charity Globalteer as saying “One of the challenges facing people wishing to volunteer responsibly is that there is no independent quality standard, no recognized regulatory body,”

While there is no international regulatory body there are groups raising the bar of international volunteering. The International Volunteer Programs Association (IVPA) is a US standards group for international volunteering. Organizations become members of IVPA via a thorough application process and adhering to 35 established Principles and Practices.

The IVPA standards cover the spectrum of volunteer programing including safety, volunteer training, management and community partnership. Some of the standards that set IVPA members apart from other operators include the following:


  1. The organization has at least one in-country staff member per program

Standard 9 helps ensure the organization is in fact running the program and not a third party provider. The staffing requirement is important in communicating with volunteers, headquarters and the community, and ensuring quality of the program.  

Volunteer Reflection

  1. Engages volunteers in written and oral critical reflection on their experiences.  

Standard 14 gives the volunteer the time and tools to process an experience that for many becomes a life-changing experience. When IVPA members’ staff engage volunteers they are able to challenge preconceived ideas, answer questions and enrich the volunteers’ experience.


  1. Collects feedback from global partners and communities at least once annually to assess the impact and quality of the volunteers‘ contributions and level of ‘buy-in’ from community members.

Partnership is a key component to international volunteering. IVPA wants to ensure that member organizations are actively seeking feedback from partners and communities and that volunteer sending organizations are thoughtfully evaluating the impact of volunteer projects.


  1. Holds current and adequate domestic and foreign liability insurance.

Liability insurance is just one standard of many that addresses safety. Safety is a huge factor in evaluating a volunteer sending organization.

While a list of standards can’t completely cover the diversity and complexities of international volunteer programs, IVPA standards are the best way to ensure quality in volunteer abroad organizations.

While reflection and critique is welcome and needed in the field of international volunteering, it is also important to recognize that there are quality volunteer sending organizations who are interested in sustainability, partnership, and meeting actual community needs, as well as providing a meaningful and safe experience to the volunteer. IVPA member organizations are committed to those principles and practices and represent excellence in volunteering.

Travel Tip #2 – Learn the Language!

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(photo taken from Quality Courses blog)

I apologize for the little hiatus on the blog posts – things have gotten busy over here! But I’m back, and with another travel tip!

If you’re traveling abroad to another country, one of the most intimidating aspects is definitely the language barrier. Learning the native language of the area you will be temporarily inhabiting is an extremely helpful (and unoriginal) idea, but much easier said than done.

If only it was that easy (photo taken from

It’s highly unrealistic to become fluent in a new language, especially in a matter of only weeks or months prior to your trip; however, there are a few things you can easily do in the time that you have leading up to your departure that will not only help give you peace of mind about that language, but also show respect to the culture you will be immersing yourself in.

  1. Know basic phrases in the foreign language, such as “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” “excuse me,”etc.
  2. Don’t hesitate to take notes, and don’t be afraid and to reference them while on the trip.
  3. Don’t forget about physical communication – know what it and is not appropriate/offensive, and remember to use gestures to further communicate with native speakers.
  4. Trial by fire may be embarrassing to attempt, but it is the easiest way to learn a language quickly, so just talk!

For a more comprehensive and detailed list of these tips and more, I found this page on Voluntario Global’s website to be a great source. As always, I hope you found this helpful, and happy traveling!

IVPA newsletter!

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Here are a few highlights from our latest newsletter! For the full newsletter, here is the link. Definitely check it out!

Community and Impact Assessment

Every now and then, we need to reflect on the foundation of IVPA – our standards. Today’s focus will be on…

IVPA Principle and Practice #23:
An IVPA member organization “Collects feedback from global partners and communities at least once annually to assess the impact and quality of the volunteers’ contributions and level of ‘buy-in’ from community members.”

“For any successful project, communication and feedback are essential.  Perhaps nowhere is the need for feedback more evident than with international volunteer programs.  (…) The type of feedback mechanism in place might vary from project to project or host country to host country. (…) No matter the method, there should be a formal feedback mechanism in place so that there is a record and a history of the project and the relationship with the partner or community. A record can protect institutional memory and be a resource for analyzing the success and future steps for a project.”

Remember – always take into consideration your host country’s culture, customs, and language(s) to ensure that the most efficient and effective feedback mechanism is put in place!

IVPA Members Respond to Nepal Earthquake

“On April 25th, an 7.8Mw earthquake hit Nepal. To date over 8,000 people have died in the earthquake and over 19,000 injured. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of Nepalese have been rendered homeless.” In response, two of our member organizations, Projects Abroad and Habitat for Humanity, both of which have had long-standing work relationships in Nepal, went to work immediately.

Projects Abroad has worked in Nepal since 1999, and since the earthquake they have  “transitioned their volunteer projects to a disaster relief focus, ‘to show them that we stand with them when they need it most.’ (…) The project will expand into other regions as work is completed and participation grows.”

Habitat for Humanity has been working in Nepal for the past 18 years. “Habitat’s disaster response teams are coordinating response operations with local government agencies and disaster relief partners. Habitats efforts include distributing a goal of 20,000 emergency shelter kits, organizing engineers and engineering students to perform house-by-house damage assessments, and construct transitional and new permanent housing.”

We thank our member organizations for their incredible work!

Meet the Balmediano family

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When a person commits their life – no matter how much or how little of it – to true volunteer service, they often do it for no reward, other than the fulfillment of bettering the world. However, it is always wonderful to see people making headlines for their tremendous work and dedication to the field of volunteer service.

Today’s spotlight is dedicated to a very special family in the Philippines: the Balmedianos.

Philippines: Legacy of a volunteering father

Apreillou Balmediano (right) standing next to brother Bryan and his family (photo taken from

When Benny Balmediano suffered a cardiac arrest in 2004, his son Bryan successfully resuscitated him with his first aid training as a volunteer for the Phillippine Red Cross (PRC). After this life-altering event, Benny, alongside Bryan, joined the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as a volunteer driver and emergency responder for the PRC. He even encouraged his daughter, Apreillou, to join as a volunteer as well.

However, on the night of February 19, 2012, while responding to an incident in Kidapawan City, Benny died in an explosion while trying to shield Bryan.

Their father’s death has drastically impacted the lives of Bryan and Apreillou, but they have decided to continue their volunteer work with the Red Cross. Together, they have been saving countless lives through their efforts to both preserve the lives of the people in the Philippines, as well as the the legacy of their father, Benny.

To read the full article, click here.

Travel Tip #1

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On this blog, one of the posts every month will be dedicated to some short tips to always keep in mind when volunteering abroad. After all, traveling to a new place can be pretty exciting, but also very, very scary – especially if you’re not prepared! Today’s tip is…

Buy good shoes!

Wherever you’re traveling, you’re guaranteed to be walking…a lot. Invest in a comfortable, high quality pair of shoes. It doesn’t necessarily have to empty your wallet, but definitely something you can count on for long, taxing hikes throughout the duration of your trip. Make sure they’re closed-toe to prevent bug bites and cuts, weatherproof for when Mother Nature unpredictably strikes, and make sure they aren’t flashy, but they are very, very durable.

Click to enlarge

Salomon Ellipse GTX – women’s (

And definitely don’t forget to break into them before your journey! Your feet will thank you!

Meet Our New Summer Interns!

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Srisivaa Karri – Communications Intern

1398573_739284922751511_272028057_oMy name is Srisivaa Karri, or Sri for short, and I am the new summer Communications Intern for IVPA! I am going to be an incoming sophomore at The Ohio State University as a double-major in Communications & International Studies with a minor in Global Public Health. I love volunteering and have done it for many years, ranging from assisting physical therapists, to tutoring underprivileged kids, to sponsoring 6 orphan children through SOS Children’s Villages International, but I’ve never been able to do anything outside of my hometown in southern Ohio. My dream is to go on a volunteer abroad trip, which I hope to do in the near future. Be sure to check out IVPA and Everyday Ambassador’s blogs for new posts!

Annemarie Morris – Social Media Intern

My name is Annemarie Morris. I was born and raised in South Florida but am Annemariecurrently studying at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY. I am going into my senior year majoring in Communication Studies and minoring in Social Work. Volunteering has always been an important part of my life as I spent endless hours at my local homeless shelter. Presently, I volunteer at my college local Astor Head Start Preschool. Last summer I volunteered at an orphanage in Rio Dulce, Guatemala which expanded my passion for volunteering internationally. I had the pleasure of spending last fall studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain and traveled around Europe. 

Visiting Amigos de las Américas in Oaxaca

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As part of my job as Executive Director of IVPA, I occasionally get to visit our member programs and see volunteers in action. Visiting with communities and volunteers is one of my favorite things. Last week I was in Oaxaca and was able to spend the day with IVPA member organization, Amigos de las Américas.



AMIGOS is an amazing organization that has a long legacy volunteering. They are celebrating their 50-year anniversary this year! AMIGOS’ mission is to inspire and build young leaders through collaborative community development and immersion in cross-cultural experiences. AMIGOS primarily works with high school and university students on summer projects and recently expanded to have semester and gap year programs.


I first met up with Amigos de las Américas’ Oaxaca Project Director, Emma Smith. We discussed her role and the different programs that she helps manage. Emma brings a lot of experience to her role and was even an AMIGOS volunteer in high school, only to return to work for the organization after receiving her master’s degree. Emma manages 35 volunteers in Oaxaca. Emma’s responsibilities when visiting a community include meeting with local officials, host families, partner organizations, and volunteers to make sure any problems or issues have been properly addressed.

That day we were meeting up with Supervisor, Rani Kumar and together we would take a colectivo taxi to the rural community of Santo Tomas Mazaltepec, about an hour away from Oaxaca. Rani is a university student and returned AMIGOS volunteer who in her role as supervisor visits volunteers weekly in their communities.


In Santo Tomas Mazaltepec there are two teenage AMIGOS volunteers. These volunteers get a full immersive experience, living with a host family and working with community partners and local youth volunteers. I was particularly impressed with their level of maturity, their language skills, and their dedication to the work.


The AMIGOS volunteers have been working with a partner organization, Puente a la Salud Comunitaria. Puente is a nonprofit that trains community promoters who teach healthy cooking and nutrition and also run a summer lunch program for the local children. What I loved about Puente was that they actively work to introduce the native amaranth grain that is full of vitamins and amino acids, teaching families how to cook with it.

In addition to their work with Puente, the AMIGOS volunteers also work along side local youth to brainstorm, plan and execute a “micro project”. In the community of Mazaltepec the youth chose to develop a game night and to stock the library with games, some purchased and some created.



It was so fun to AMIGOS volunteers at work and to see their staff coordinating and working with the community and partner organization leaders.

Thanks AMIGOS for letting me witness the great work you are doing.

Global Citizens Network and Intercultural Student Experiences Announce Launch of Global Learners Grant and 2014 Recipients

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Global Citizens Network and Intercultural Student Experiences Announce Launch of Global Learners Grant and 2014 Recipients


Minneapolis – July 29, 2014 – Global Citizens Network (GCN) and Intercultural Student

Experiences (ISE), a nonprofit alliance dedicated to increasing cross-cultural understanding and cooperation, have named five Minnesota high schools as recipients of Global Learners Grants. The recipients—The FAIR School, Minneapolis; High School for Recording Arts, St. Paul; New Century Academy, Hutchinson; Wadena-Deer Creek High School, Wadena; and Washington Technology Secondary Magnet, St. Paul—were selected from a pool of eligible applicants. In its inaugural year, the GCN-ISE Global Learners Grant program will provide a total of $200,000 that will enable more than 50 students to participate in immersion and cross-cultural education programs in East Africa, Thailand, Costa Rica and China in 2015.

In response to increasing demand for international and cross-cultural student learning experiences, the Global Learners Grant program is designed to expand opportunities for high school students and teachers to participate in short-term cultural and/or language immersion programs abroad. Global Learners Grants are awarded to Minnesota high schools that serve predominantly low-income student populations and currently have limited or no organized opportunities for students to participate in such global experiences.

“We developed the Global Learners Grant program as a way to provide meaningful cross-cultural experiences for students and teachers who might otherwise not have such opportunities. Participating in these cross-cultural experiences at a young age has provento be beneficial in many ways, including improved language, communication, leadership and problem-solving skills, as well as increased employment and earning potential in the future,” said Steve Struthers, executive director for GCN and ISE. “We are very excited to launch and grow this initiative to further expand access to cross-cultural exchange experiences for high schools in the region.”

About Global Citizens Network (GCN) & Intercultural Student Experiences (ISE): GCN and ISE are two strategically aligned, Minneapolis-based nonprofit organizations with more than 60 years of combined experience working to increase cross-cultural understanding and and cooperation.


  • GCN facilitates international and domestic volunteer travel programs for individuals, families and groups, including academic programs for high schools and universities. These programs offer opportunities to live and work with members of indigenous communities who have long-standing relationships with GCN, in a culturally rich and respectful immersion experience.

Complementing the international programs, GCN also offers local programs that provide Twin Cities residents Spanish language training led by native speakers, from beginning to advanced levels, and educational forums for understanding the cultures, histories and issues affecting indigenous and international populations.

  • ISE coordinates international language immersion programs for K-12 students of French, German, Mandarin and Spanish. Through unique travel itineraries and family stay experiences, ISE programs emphasize language practice and acquisition while providing authentic cultural and linguistic immersion.

ISE also facilitates U.S. hosting programs that allow international high school students to experience United States culture and improve their English language skills while living with volunteer U.S. host families.

  • The GCN-ISE alliance also provides training and consulting services to individuals and organizations seeking to enhance their effectiveness in cross-cultural engagement.

To learn more about GCN and ISE, please visit and