Nothing is more important to us than the safety and fulfillment of our volunteers, so we do whatever is necessary to ensure the safety of our volunteers … and to provide the best environment for them to have a fulfilling experience.
“The Quest was a great experience for our daughter Sarah. United Planet did a lot to make us feel comfortable. It was nice that we, with Sarah, were able to go to Boston and meet with United Planet staff and she had a great experience at the pre-departure training camp. She loved working with the children…made great friends from all over the world and even got to do extensive traveling to really experience the country and culture. Her host mother was great, very attentive and sweet. She made us feel very good about the place where Sarah was living and we knew she was taking good care of our daughter. It has really changed Sarah’s perspective…and we think this experience is going to help her a lot in college. We feel very good about her experience with United Planet in Ecuador.”
Ellen McPhilipes, Parent of United Planet Volunteer
For most Short-Term and Long-Term Programs, volunteers must be at least 18 years old. However, we do offer several Short-Term programs with a minimum age requirement of 16 or 17 to destinations selected for younger travelers. Volunteers of any age are eligible to participate in all Quests if they are traveling with a parent, guardian, or friend over the age of 21. We welcome volunteers of all nationalities.
Our volunteers’ safety is our most important concern, and we take extensive precautions to ensure that your child is in a safe environment while on their program.
United Planet staff will be there to help your child should any emergency arise while they are volunteering. Your child will have 24/7 in-country support available from our Country Coordinators and from our Boston office staff, all of whom have been extensively trained in health, safety, and risk-management procedures. All of our host families, volunteer projects, and recommended local transportation have been carefully vetted for trustworthiness and safety. We wouldn’t place a volunteer anywhere we weren’t comfortable staying ourselves.
United Planet provides travel and emergency medical insurance for all volunteers so that your child is never left without options should an emergency arise. Meals are provided by host families or host project staff who have plenty of experience cooking for volunteers, and all in-country activities and excursions are booked through trusted and experienced providers. Finally, a big part of staying safe while abroad is knowing what to expect – that’s why we conduct mandatory pre-departure training and in-country orientation to make sure our volunteers are well-prepared.
We do all we can to ensure the health and safety of our volunteers. However, much also depends on the volunteer making sensible decisions and behaving in a responsible manner during their Quest. Talk to your child about making smart choices during their Quest, e.g. not traveling late at night, using caution when meeting new people, and not drinking to excess or using illegal drugs.
Please visit our Volunteer Health and Safety page for more detailed information about United Planet’s safety measures.
United Planet’s in-country coordinator will arrange your child’s volunteer program, homestay, and airport pickup once they arrive, and will accompany them to their volunteer project and introduce them to their project supervisor on their first day of volunteering. An in-country staff member will be available by phone 24 hours a day should any emergency arise during the Quest. Your child will also work with on-site coordinators at their volunteer project, such as workers at the orphanage, teachers at the school, doctors at the health clinic, etc.
We want your child to succeed. That means having in place the support our volunteers need. We don’t just drop your child off in country and hope for the best. We provide training before they leave … language exposure … 24/7 in-country support … support for their host family … accommodations, meals and airport transportation … activities and excursions. The whole idea is to make the experience successful and productive for them, and we have found that these things are crucial. Remember that we are a non-profit, mission-driven organization – we wouldn’t spend money on something that wasn’t important.
While volunteering abroad is an incredibly fulfilling experience, we know that raising the necessary funds can be daunting. Many of our volunteers fundraise to offset the cost of their trip. Your child can raise funds to pay for the Quest itself, as well as for the airfare – and all donations are tax deductible.
We encourage you to check out our Fundraising page where you can download a Fundraising Guide with many ideas and tips on how to raise money to fund this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ve also put together a list of scholarship and grant opportunities that your child may be eligible to apply for.
In many destinations, volunteers live with host families. For some programs, they may stay in a guesthouse or dorm style accommodation. Volunteers should be prepared for living situations different than those they are used to at home. All accommodations are safe and (relatively) clean. Remember, the idea is to experience a foreign culture: this means that things will not be the same as your child may be used to at home.
Host families go through an intensive vetting process to ensure your child’s safety. Our in-country coordinators visit the homes of the families, conduct in-depth interviews, and communicate with them frequently.
While a very uncommon occurrence, should your child feel uncomfortable at any point during their trip, the in-country coordinator will arrange for your child to move to different host family.
United Planet Quests are for individuals, each volunteer travels and works independently of others. Depending on the program and the time of year, there may be other United Planet volunteers at their site, but this is not a guarantee. Volunteers should be prepared and ready for the possibility that they may be the only volunteer in the community. This is beneficial, as it gives your child a chance to fully immerse themselves in the culture and community they are working and living in.
There are no language requirements for any program sites except those in Latin America. For our Latin America programs, basic to intermediate Spanish knowledge is required, as talking with the local people is an integral part of the volunteer work. In all countries, the in-country coordinator speaks English, but the volunteers’ host family may speak only a little English. We recommend that your child bring a language dictionary with them and learn basic phrases to have the best experience possible.
As a parent, there is important information you will need and questions you will have. Our philosophy is that the same information shared with parents is also shared with volunteers. We require an online parents’ session for volunteers under 18. During this session, we will answer any questions you have, as well as provide you with all the information about your child’s Quest. Parents of volunteers who are over the age of 18 are also welcome to participate in a phone session with a coordinator.
However, please try to resist from doing all the pre-departure work for your child. This is a time to let him or her take the reins. This is their experience, and in order to handle life on their own in a new country and culture, they will need to have done the pre-departure preparation themselves. The opportunity for them to grow in confidence, independence and maturity needs to start as soon as they enroll.
We like to think of your child as the ‘ambassador’ for the family. If you allow your son or daughter to ask us the questions you want answers to and do the necessary administrative work, you are providing them with the skills they will need to have a successful experience abroad.
All United Planet volunteers are provided with travel and emergency medical insurance, which includes evacuation and repatriation services. If your child needs to be treated at a hospital or clinic in-country, he/she will have to pay at the time of treatment and call the 24-hour number to report that treatment. You will then have 60 days to send in a claim form with the receipt of treatment for reimbursement. Please contact us for more information about travel insurance benefits.
U.S. citizens do not need a visa for stays of less than 3 months in most Quest countries. There are some Quest countries where a visa is needed, and our Project Coordinator will go over this with you and your child during the phone session. Long-Term volunteers will receive personalized help from our Long-Term Coordinator for the visa process.
Some Quest destinations do require vaccinations and anti-malarial medications. We recommend that your child make an appointment with their doctor well in advance of their Quest to discuss the necessary vaccinations and medications needed. There is also a list of recommended vaccinations on the Center for Disease Control Travelers’ Health webpage.
No, volunteers will need to arrange their own flight and airfare to and from their program’s country. We do have a partnership with a travel agency that works specifically with international volunteers, and you will receive their contact information once your child enrolls, should you choose to use their service. We’ll arrange travel in-country, including airport pick-up and drop-off and transportation to and from planned excursions and activities.
Yes! Volunteers are met at the airport by either our in-country coordinator, their host family, or a representative of United Planet. They will need to look for a person with a sign with their name on it. If they do not see this person, they should call the in-country coordinator, whose number is listed on their emergency contact card.