Is volunteering right for me?
We get a lot of questions about what to expect when volunteering internationally. Although every experience is different and unique, we asked a handful of returned volunteers your most frequently asked questions. Here are their answers.
Are you flexible and adaptable? Do you handle new situations or challenges with excitement? Are you craving the ability to live and work in another culture with an approach that values two-way learning and mutual respect? If you answered yes to these questions then becoming a Cuso volunteer will surely interest you.
Yes, you can! Many volunteers have been successfully placed overseas with their families. We offer limited support for an accompanying partner and/or children for placements of 12 months or longer. If a volunteer’s partner remains in North America, Cuso does not provide financial support for any dependents.
We would love to have you support our work right here at home! We offer many ways to get involved with Cuso by volunteering in Canada:
Yes! We don't just work in health and education. We need people with a wide range of skills and professional backgrounds. These include arts and theatre, business development, communications and marketing, community development, natural resource management and more. Check out our current volunteer placements for postings that may suit your skills and experience.
Volunteering with Cuso is a life-changing experience. You'll live in the heart of a community, working side-by-side with local colleagues to advance long-lasting solutions on today’s most important international development issues. Not only will you contribute to positive and lasting change, but you'll come away with new skills, perspectives and cross-cultural expertise.
The Volunteer Process
There are four steps to the selection process for international volunteers.
- Submit your application: We will assess your application and contact you with a response within three to four weeks.
- Participate in a preliminary interview: We assess your experience and motivations and answer your questions.
- Participate in a panel interview: We will contact your references prior to this step and they must return the completed form before a decision is made. We will then assess your interpersonal skills: self-assurance, flexibility and adaptability, sensitivity to the needs of others, ability to work in a team, the desire to learn and help others learn, and a positive and realistic commitment to volunteering.
- Approval from partner organization: The final decision will be determined by the country program office and partner organization. We will confirm this decision with you as soon as we receive it. Should you successfully meet the criteria and be selected as a volunteer, you will begin the next steps.
Language expectations will differ depending on where you are going. For countries that require French or Spanish, volunteers should function at a Level 3 or 4 ability on the Cuso Language International Scale. Preference is given to candidates who fulfill language requirements at this level.
Most volunteers receive basic to intermediate language training on arrival in the country. The length of training can vary from two days to two months depending on the importance of the local language to your placement. Where necessary, Cuso offers support for you to continue learning a language in placement. Regardless, volunteers find that making an effort to learn the language spoken by their colleagues and neighbours greatly enhances their personal experience and increases the impact of their work.
We help with that. You will need to perform certain tasks yourself but we will assist you throughout the process.
You will be well prepared before beginning your placement thanks to Cuso's comprehensive training program.
Pre-departure: You’ll be assigned an advisor who will support you through the process prior to your placement. This will involve an essential in-person four-day workshop to increase your understanding of your placement country, help you stay safe and healthy, and prepare you for a life-changing experience. You’ll also be required to complete virtual training sessions, including an online health briefing and fundraising webinar, as well as readings.
In-country: You’ll receive an in-country orientation that builds on your pre-departure training. This training averages between two to 10 days, depending on language learning requirements and other factors. This orientation will equip you with the relevant skills, knowledge and country-specific information to be successful in your placement. The country program office or local partner will provide you with continuous support throughout the duration of your placement.
We have program offices in all regions where volunteers are working. Program office staff will support you through in-country orientation, basic language training and throughout your placement. If you are working on a two-year placement, you will receive a placement visit from program office staff during your initial six months in placement, with an additional visit at the one-year mark.
In terms of your daily work, volunteers report directly to our local partner organization and are expected to approach the partner as a first contact. In the event of an emergency, the program office is responsible for taking whatever action is necessary to ensure your safety.
When you return home, you will receive a package with tools to help you make a smooth transition. Should you require it, Cuso’s medical insurance covers you for up to three months (depending on the length of your placement) after the end of your volunteer service.
All returned volunteers from Canada are invited to attend a reintegration workshop at Cuso’s expense. Held approximately three times a year, reintegration workshops give you an opportunity to reflect on your experience from both a personal and a professional perspective, connect with other returned volunteers and explore options for the future.
You will need to re-apply through our modified application process for returned volunteers. This is determined on a case-by-case basis and typically involves:
- Cuso reviewing your reference and any additional documentation from the country of your first placement
- Filling out a re-volunteering questionnaire
- Having a re-volunteering discussion with a volunteer advisor
Terms and Conditions
Your accommodation will vary depending on what is available, but you can expect to have your own bedroom and basic hard furnishings such as a bed and mattress, storage space, a table and chairs and cooking facilities. Accommodation varies from a mud-floored room to an urban apartment, depending on the location of your placement. Some volunteers are asked to share accommodation with other Cuso volunteers.
You will receive a living allowance similar to that of your local colleagues. Volunteering your service overseas means you are willing to take your professional skills and apply them in a way that encourages a sense of partnership with the people with whom you are working.
We cover your expenses relating to pre-departure training, airfare, health insurance, required immunizations and accommodation while you are overseas. We provide a comprehensive package of training and support in preparing for your placement.
No, you are not an employee of Cuso while on a placement. You are placed as a volunteer with a local partner organization in-country. Cuso's role is to broker the placement arrangement with the partner organization and to offer support in this placement by:
- Helping you understand what your local partner organization expects of you
- Providing the training required so you can work effectively in your placement within the context of the country you are volunteering in
- Supporting you and the local partner organization to maximize the benefits of your placement
- Providing you financial and other supports during your placement
Cuso's partners include a range of organizations, from government ministries to community-based organizations, from small enterprises to local, national and international non-governmental organizations. We seek partners who are committed to change and who can provide the organizational structure and resources needed for our volunteers to be effective.
This will depend on the type of placement and the country where you will be working. In some cases, volunteers are placed in ‘clusters,’ while in others, you may be a distance from another volunteer.
Safety and Security
Our top priority is the safety and security of staff and volunteers. In the event of an emergency during your placement, the country program office with support from the team at Cuso’s headquarters will take the necessary steps to ensure your safety and security. We have established and proven procedures and protocols to respond to emergencies.
As well, you’ll be briefed on health and safety during your pre-departure training. The online Volunteer Portal provides updated key safety and security information and you’ll receive information regarding safety and security risks, mitigation strategies and security protocols in-country.
The country program office will advise you on medical facilities near your placement. If you have a medical problem or emergency, program office staff will provide advice and make necessary arrangements to ensure you receive appropriate care.
There is a certain level of physical and psychological fitness required to become a Cuso volunteer, as conditions may be more basic in your placement. You will be required to have a medical examination once you are selected and prior to going overseas. Previous medical treatment will not necessarily disqualify you from being offered a placement, although it will be considered.
Cuso's medical advisor confirms medical clearance, offers up-to-date vaccination advice and provides healthcare recommendations. While in placement your health is of paramount importance and you will have a reasonable standard of living, clean water and a healthy diet.
Yes, all volunteers receive emergency medical insurance while overseas. Once your placement is confirmed, you should schedule your medical examination and have your doctor complete Cuso's medical forms. Medical coverage is automatic upon receiving your medical clearance from Cuso’s medical advisor. Please note that we do not cover pre-existing medical conditions.
Medical insurance will cover any necessary medical treatment, such as hospital or ambulance costs and medication prescribed by a qualified medical practitioner. In the case of a medical emergency, essential evacuation and related expenses are also covered. You will also be covered for up to three months upon your return to Canada after your placement is complete, should you require it.
You are entitled to 15 days paid leave per year (prorated for shorter placements), in addition to statutory holidays that occur during your placement.
Returning to North America during your volunteering is possible. Some volunteers choose to return to North America for their vacation. Your vacation time (terms and conditions) will be determined with your local employer. Please note that Cuso cannot cover the costs of any personal travel during this period.