A volunteer work camp? Sounds like a chain gang or a concentration camp! In reality, the The International Voluntary Service (IVS) has been sponsoring volunteer work camp programs for decades. The organizaton was begun after World War I, in 1920. Its first project was rebuilding a village near Verdun, France, that had been destroyed during the war. It wasn't until 28 years later that the IVS evolved into what it is today. The Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) is one of the truly great ideas to blossom after the Second World War. In a world desperate for peace and understanding between nations, the newly formed UNESCO helped establish this organization that promotes international volunteerism. The idea is simple. Organizations in countries around the world work with local communities to find needs. Then with the support of the locals, a short term project is planned, and an appeal is sent out to volunteers worldwide. The result is people from many countries coming together to help the local community achieve the projects goal. This was quite an accomplishment in the Post-War years, and during the Cold War. These projects were not restricted to developing economies. International Workcamps, as they're called, can be found to this day in Europe and the U.S, as well as in developing economies.
We at ELI do not have group volunteerism as our primary mission, so we are only directly involved with one CCIVS program. We partner with the Kenya Voluntary Development Association, an active and exemplary member of CCIVS, representing everything that one could ask of this worldwide movement. There are organizations that specialize in placing volunteers with CCIVS projects. In the US, Volunteers for Peace (www.vfp.org) offers access to the full range of CCIVS projects. Guidelines for Inter-regional Volunteer Exchange can be found here.
Projects vary in length, but are generally 2-3 weeks. Costs are very low. Living conditions are generally communal and quite basic, but the spirit of working together towards a common goal alleviates any issues for most participants. Of course, as with any volunteer activity, the quality of the program depends on the organizational skills of the hosts. A volunteer should not go in with expectations of a high end tour! Be open-minded and remember that the experience is what you make of it.
See our Kenya work camp programs here.
By Kevin O'Neill