“ Project sends school leavers to live and work in interesting and challenging placements in 25 countries around the globe, mainly in the developing world. All placements are 12 months long. We carefully select both the placements and the participant to ensure a successful match and also run training courses and debriefing courses for all our volunteers. „
After deciding that I wanted to travel overseas for my gap year I started looking for organizations that could assist me in this. I knew that I wanted to work as a volunteer (as opposed to being an Au Pair or just travelling) and also that I wanted to stay for a whole year, not just part of it. When looking through my 'Careerscope' magazine I saw an advert for Project Trust. They stated that they offered a whole year in your selected country, most of the organization I had looked at only offered 3 or 6 months. I gave them a ring straight away and they took my details so that they could send me an information pack. This pack arrived in a just a few days time and was very comprehensive. It contained a folder with brief information about all of the projects that they offered in all the different countries, along with a little information on the country itself. This I found very useful as it help me make a clearer picture in my mind of where I wanted to go. Also included in the pack was an application form and booklet explaining more of the finer details such as expenses. It told me that I would have to raise £3000, a lot of money. However, this was supposed to cover everything except my spending money, that meant tickets, insurance, visas, accommodation (and in some projects food) were paid for. It also covered the cost of paying for our country representatives - one in the UK one in the country. I filled in the application form and sent it off. One week later I received an invitation to go for a selection week on the Isle of Coll, a small island off the West Coast of Scotland, where Project Trust is based. I had to pay for transport, but food and accommodation, and the ferry ticket were paid for by Project Trust. On arrival on Coll, with about 30 other prospective volunteers we were taken to where we would be staying for the week. We were split into groups of two and three and were put up by members of the Coll community. Th
e idea behind this was to monitor how well we could adapt to new people and surroundings, and to see how well we would interact with our hosts. This was a large part of the selection process. During the days we were taken to the Project Trust center, on the other end of the island, and put through our paces on activities of all kinds. These included group work, 'teaching' a short lesson to a small group, digging and learning Ceilidh (Scottish) dances. Every move we made was watched. Near the end of the week we were given a short individual interview to find out a little more about us and to find out which country we would prefer to go to. We were also asked if there were any countries that we didn't want to go. It was stressed to us that if we were selected then we might not get the exact project we wanted as they have several selection weeks throughout the year. Once all of the selection courses have been completed they make their final decision on where everyone would be going. One week later I received a letter from Project Trust informing me that I had been selected to go overseas with them. Zimbabwe, which was my first choice, was the most probable country I would go to, the other possibilities where South Africa, Botswana and Sri Lanka. Not long after getting the letter I was sent a fundraising pack with lots of ideas of how to raise the £3000 required. This was very helpful and gave a lot of the legal information required for organizing a fundraising event. Around March, I was due to leave in the September, I received forms from Project Trust to fill in for my work permit application. These were fairly straight forward as they also sent me all the details I needed to put on it about employer in Zimbabwe. A month or two later I received another letter from them telling me that the visa had been sorted out and that I would be able to collect on arrival in Zimbabwe. So far everything was going really well and I wa
s very pleased with the level of support from Project Trust. However, from this point onward things started to take a slowly downward spiral. In August all the volunteers that had been selected to go to South Africa and Zimbabwe, including me of course, were invited to the Isle of Coll again for a one-week training course. This course was compulsory as on it we were to be taught the basic skills that would be required during our year abroad. During this week we were introduced to our partners for the year – it is Project Trust policy to send all volunteers in pairs, for safety and support. They claim to match together partners with the same skills and pastimes. This is where they failed miserably. Yes we did have the same skills, but pastimes we were a LONG way off. I went to church, didn’t smoke, only drank occasionally and preferred sitting at home reading a book – she was an atheist, smoked like a chimney (great we had to share a room for the first 3 months!), drank a lot and went out partying every night. Similar pastimes, I don’t think so. We didn’t get on from day one of the training course. The training course itself was very good. We were given a crash course in teaching (for those of us with teaching projects), learnt a little about the country and culture in Zimbabwe and given tips on safety in the country, amongst many things. Also given to us was a telephone list with important numbers we may have needed during our time there including our representative in Zimbabwe, and the British High Commissioner. We were also informed that if we wished to receive a certificate on our return to say that we had been a volunteer for one year we would have to submit an investigation into some aspect of the culture BEFORE our return (I never bothered – you’ll find out why soon). We also had to attend the debriefing on our return to the UK (ha.ha). A week after the training course my airticket arrived an
d two weeks after that I landed in Zimbabwe with 27 other eager volunteers. On arrival we were met by our country rep, she was responsible for our well being whilst in the country. Any major problems had to be directed to her first, THEN to the UK based representative back at Project Trust Headquarters. After spending the first few nights together as a group we were taken to (or put on a bus to) our Project (for more information on this please read my report (Fun, love and Education). For the first term at the school everything went fairly smoothly. I didn’t get on with my partner but we generally managed to stay out of each other’s hair. We both worked hard and our head of department was very pleased with us both. However, after Christmas things changed. My partner began to skip lessons, when she did turn up she was usually either hungover, stoned or on a few occasions drunk. To cut an extremely long story short, the head of department confronted her about the situation. My partner accused her of victimizing her and ran ‘crying’ to our country rep. I know for a fact that she had been skipping lessons as her pupils used to come and ask me where she was!! However, when the country rep came to the school she didn’t even ask me how I was. I don’t think for a second she even thought of asking ME what the situation was. After much discussion and debate between Project Trust and the school it was decided (very unhappily by the school) that no more Project Trust volunteers would be sent to this Project. The second amazing thing that happened, which I only found out about almost 1 month later (because of the school holidays), was that my partner stopped working at the project and went to a new one. Now, obviously, I was left on my own at the Project. I didn’t care, infect I was much happier on my own. But, it took one whole month before the country rep called me and told me that my partner would not be ret
urning. ‘We know you’re OK, and that you’ll be fine on your own’ she told me. When I asked HOW she knew she told me that a) I looked happy when she saw me (in passing) and b) because the school had said so. I ask you, how could she trust the school one minute and distrust them the next? That folk is where the story end with project trust. As soon as I had received that call from Project Trust I dropped them from my mind. I made arrangements to stay at the school for an extra year and never had anymore contact from the organization. Although I’m sure that there are many volunteers who were/are very pleased with the support Project Trust provided I’m afraid that I can not recommend them. In my experience the care given before leaving the UK is much greater than that given once you are abroad and the lack of communication was dismal.