We like to hear about the different perspectives and expectations that people involved with Workaway have.
Listening to the voice of someone involved as a host with Workaway can give us an idea of the benefits and challenges that are involved in having a volunteer stay.
This blog post was written by Nicola who has hosted many volunteers at her place and shares some of her thoughts about the characteristics of a useful Workawayer.
How to Lend a Helping Hand
Over the last three years we have hosted many volunteer visitors. It’s not a decision to make lightly – sharing your home, socialising and working alongside new people on a regular basis takes some diplomacy. Your house becomes a public space and the atmosphere changes markedly as new personalities arrive and friends leave.
I try hard as a host but know I don’t get it right 100% of the time – we are still learning. I really appreciate when volunteers share best practice with me. Here I will try to return the favour – what works well from a host’s point of view.
Nine out of ten times the visits are successful. Our volunteers leave after having a positive experience, learning from and contributing to the project. Though we have lots of tales to tell about the one-in-ten exceptions, I want to talk briefly about the others.
Be Reliable and Informed
- Good volunteers book in advance and then show up when expected.
- They are honest about their background and abilities and are willing to learn new skills.
- They are able to get on in a group with a variety of personality types without causing physical injury, social offence or emotional trauma to others.
The best volunteers are fun to spend time with, no matter what their level of ability.
The top visits are those from people who have read the information provided. They know roughly what to expect of the location, the types of work we have available & our reasons for being. People who are passionate about sustainable living or wanting to learn more are a pleasure to host.
If you don’t care about the environment and visit a project like ours, it will be immediately apparent. I’d imagine this would be true in other places – for example if you’re an atheist visiting a holistic therapy centre or have accidentally ended up at a nudist colony.
There needs to be an ideological fit to make a really successful visit.
Have Basic Domestic Skills
Having some basic domestic skills is important. Often people who are nervous of their practical abilities have a whole host of skills they just haven’t valued highly enough before. Cleaning, for example. We have a rule that the toilet must be cleaned by the person who hasn’t done it for the longest.
Most volunteers are house-trained – if you have domestic servants at home – or self-suffering parents who have provided a hotel-like existence, you will be at a disadvantage. Each host will have their own systems for cooking rotas, dish washing & general cleaning which a good volunteer will pick up quickly.
If you don’t already know how to cook a decent veggie meal then you should start practising now. Some places – like ours – primarily use local and vegetarian ingredients, and you will definitely come across (and end up cooking for) other volunteers who are veggie or vegan.
Anyone can cook meat dishes to taste good, but veggie food needs a little more skill. You need to think about both protein and flavour, then again, there’s a saying in these parts that “hunger is the best chef” and we certainly build up our appetites. Also, special recipes from your geographic origin are always appreciated.
Have Some Experience of Manual Work
If you have never had a manual job before – as is often the case with travellers who are fresh out of college or from an office-bound background, you will find physical work demanding, but your fitness and muscle tone will increase quickly and you will leave looking buff.
People who have no work experience at all are sometimes obvious to hosts because they tend to work very slowly, even when given very simple jobs. Please appreciate that there is an opportunity cost for hosts.
The time we spend training and supervising you is time we are not working ourselves. If I can do a task in a quarter of the time it takes you, I need to believe that you will get up to speed quickly and will not need someone standing behind you in order to get the job done.
If I need to ‘manage’ you, it’s not working.
Therefore, any, literally any, experience of manual work in your profile shows me you understand work in the real world and will appreciate the nice jobs you’ll get to do here.
If your host has a lot to organise, then the completed sentence “Would you like me to…” is a godsend. It normally means that a volunteer feels confident to do a specific job and can go and get on with it without a high level of supervision.
That leaves me free to supervise the people who don’t know the difference between plants and weeds – so I have a cat-in-hell’s chance of saving the spinach, asparagus or raspberry canes from being pulled out.
Likewise, if you can spot something which needs to be done every day (feeding animals, doing the grocery shopping, really anything) and offer to take responsibility, this will often be very helpful.
Embrace Honesty and Positivity
Hosts expect breakages. The volunteers who let us know when something’s been broken are never beaten, locked in a cupboard or otherwise punished.
We really appreciate knowing so that it doesn’t cause a bigger problem down the line & I will try my hardest not to look cross (something I think I still need to work on!).
If you are visiting a poor country and you’re wealthier than your host, the offer to pay for a replacement would be appropriate and appreciated, especially when accidents happen on multiple occasions.
Finally, sometimes it feels like a storm is on the way. Some of our favourite volunteers arrived with us totally lacking in any obvious skill or ability.
But do not underestimate the power of a positive attitude.
There are times when we have been under a deluge, but a sunny nature can dry out the situation pretty quickly.
With heartfelt thanks from a project which has positively benefited from Workaway helpers.
Long may it continue.