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What is Volunteer Service Abroad Te Tūao Tāwāhi?

Volunteer Service Abroad Te Tūao Tāwāhi (VSA) is New Zealand’s largest and most experienced volunteering agency working in International Development. We facilitate Kiwi volunteers to support locally identified and led initiatives throughout the Pacific. Through the sharing of industry skills and experience, we facilitate New Zealanders to assist in capacity building with a focus on sustainable, ethical and inclusive volunteering.

What do VSA volunteers get from their experience?

Each assignment, location, partner organisation and context are different, and no two volunteer experiences are the same. In saying that, most volunteers speak of the life-changing experience of living and volunteering in the Pacific and how the challenge has had a positive impact on other aspects of their lives. Volunteers often come back with a different perspective and have spoken about personal growth. Others have found it has helped in their career while others acknowledged the joy of ‘giving back’, making life-long friends, and making a real and significant impact in the communities they have volunteered in.

What is an assignment?

An assignment is effectively a volunteer role within a local partner organisation. These are locally identified and typically involve living and volunteering in the community with which the assignment serves.

Some assignments are designed with remote volunteering in mind. These E-volunteer assignments can be done part-time from New Zealand with the expectation of 5-20 hours per week.

What skills and experience do I need?

VSA facilitates experienced volunteers to support Pacific communities across a diverse range of industries including education, policy, marketing and communications, tourism, IT, engineering, agriculture, health, law and community development amongst many others.

Most importantly, VSA volunteers need to have strong soft skills and be adaptable, flexible, respectful and have a sense of humour. An ability to ‘roll with punches’ and ‘take things in stride’ are essential attributes when living and volunteering in the Pacific. Living and working standards are often very different in the Pacific so adaptability and resilience are key.

New assignments are being identified all the time and you can find all current opportunities on the VSA website – www.vsa.org.nz/volunteer

What is the process to become a volunteer?

All candidates undergo a thorough recruitment and onboarding process to ensure the safety and success of the volunteer, their assignment, and the local community in which they will be living and working.

During the recruitment stage, the volunteer will undergo an initial screening, background checks and two interviews including a panel interview with a subject matter expert. Upon successful completion of these, the candidate is then provided a provisional offer and will begin the Onboarding journey. The purpose of this stage is to help prepare the volunteer for their assignment and depending on the type of assignment, will include medical clearances, visa applications, flights and other administrative
matters. For those going in-country, volunteers are required to complete a 3-day Briefing course at the Wellington VSA office. E-volunteers, who volunteer remotely while remaining in New Zealand are not expected to attend the 3-day briefing but must complete some online and in-person modules prior to starting the assignment.

Once onboarding has been completed, the volunteer will begin their assignment. At the completion of the assignment, the volunteer will go through a ‘Wrap up’ stage including an assignment debrief and post-assignment medical checks.

Note: It is important for volunteers to not make any significant decisions (ie selling a house, resigning from work etc) until advised by VSA. On rare occasions, there may be delays with immigration and visa processing or in receiving medical clearance. Both VSA, and the volunteer, reserves the right to cancel an assignment at any stage, including during the onboarding stage.

What are the expectations of a VSA volunteer?

VSA volunteers are expected to be adaptable and flexible and represent the VSA brand and values at all times while on assignment. All potential volunteers should understand the country they are travelling to. Visiting a country as a tourist can be quite different from living and volunteering within a local community and volunteers are encouraged to do their own research.

While comprehensive medical insurance is provided, the volunteer is responsible for additional insurance, including any professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

In addition to working towards the objectives of an assignment, all volunteers are required to complete periodic reporting to measure, evaluate, research and learn (MERL) and funding accountability.

For volunteers travelling in-country, VSA covers flights, accommodation, pre- and post-departure medical checks, insurance and a modest living allowance. As a charity, we are responsible for raising funds and we ask all volunteers and accompanying partners to aim to raise $1000 to help cover some of these costs. VSA has an active and supportive fundraising team who can support you in this. Please see some of the fundraising already being done by other VSA volunteers at Volunteer Service Abroad - Te Tūao Tāwāhi Incorporated (raisely.com)

Note: VSA are not qualified to provide comment or advice on tax, ACC, student loan repayments or insurance and this remains the sole responsibility of the volunteer to contact the relevant authorities regarding their own unique situation. VSA can provide letters of support if required.

Do I have to be a New Zealander to be eligible to volunteer?

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) is a major funder of VSA, and all volunteers must be a New Zealand Citizen or Permanent Resident. If a volunteer intends to travel on a non-New Zealand passport, volunteers are required to disclose this with the recruitment team upon application as this may impact the extent of consular support in-country in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.

Who will I work for?

Each assignment is voluntary and as such the volunteer is not an employee of VSA. The volunteer works for a local partner organisation which could be a small local community organisation or business, a government agency, or a national or international NGO. An overview of the Partner Organisation is listed with each assignment description and is available on the volunteer vacancy page.

What support will I receive from VSA prior to starting the assignment?

VSA will support the volunteer through the recruitment and onboarding process before going on assignment, including arranging visas, flights and other logistical requirements. Each volunteer travelling to the Pacific must attend a thorough 3-day pre-deployment briefing in Wellington with flights and accommodation paid for by VSA. The briefing will involve a series of workshops addressing VSA’s approach to volunteering and international development, intercultural communication, health and wellbeing amongst others.

What support will I receive during the assignment?

Each country programme has a dedicated VSA Programme Manager who is available to support the volunteer during the assignment. Volunteers are expected to have a degree of self-sufficiency much as they would living alone in New Zealand. The Programme Manager is there to support the volunteers to ensure they have the skills and knowledge for this to happen.

VSA arranges and pays for modest accommodation and a living allowance to cover basic costs in-country. Country orientation and language lessons are provided upon arrival. For longer assignments, VSA provides an establishment grant to assist in setting up the volunteer’s accommodation with basic amenities.

All programmes have a thorough health and safety plan, and volunteers are provided comprehensive medical insurance during the assignment and up to 4 weeks upon return to New Zealand.

Note: The living allowance is designed to cover a simple standard of living, including food, at a level similar to that of the local community. In-country volunteers are expected to be adaptable and will likely experience a different diet and standard of living than they may otherwise be accustomed to in New Zealand.

Can I choose which country I go to?

Assignments are created based on a locally identified need and specific to a community or country. Volunteers can choose to apply to any volunteer vacancy.

Are there any age restrictions?

VSA volunteers are expected to have experience in their industry meaning that volunteers would typically be expected to be over 25 years old.

However, those under 30 who have recently graduated from University (or will have by the time the assignment commences) are eligible for a vacancy in the Univol programme.

Regardless of the nature of the assignment, living and working in the Pacific demands a strong level of physical fitness and for some countries restrictions for those over the age of 65 or 70 may apply. Assignments are not open to those over the age of 75.

Can I take my partner or children?

For long-term assignments (6+ months) accompanying partners are permitted to travel with the volunteer. Accompanying partners must go through a similar recruitment, vetting and onboarding process as the volunteer and are expected to represent VSA values, behaviours and approaches to international development throughout the assignment.

Currently, VSA is not in a position to recruit families with children given contractual, insurance, duty of care and logistical implications.

What defines an Accompanying Partner?

An Accompanying Partner is someone who has a romantic relationship with the volunteer. In most cases, this will be someone living with the volunteer at the time of application.

Accompanying Partners who have not been living together in a de facto relationship may be accepted however may not be able to defer student loans or other payments. It is the responsibility of the volunteer and accompanying partner to contact IRD and/or other relevant organisations around their own personal situation.

Can I undertake paid work while overseas?

VSA’s approach to International Development is for volunteers to embed themselves in their local community as much as possible. For those volunteers who will be travelling in-country, this means volunteers are not permitted to undertake paid work, either in that country or remotely back in New Zealand. Doing so may also contravene the MOU between the host government and VSA, and also the conditions of a volunteer’s visa.

For those doing part-time E-volunteering from New Zealand, volunteers are permitted to work.

Do I need to be vaccinated?

The safety, health and well-being of our volunteers and the local communities for which they work are of utmost importance. All volunteers are required to undergo a medical clearance under an external medical adviser, including vaccinations for COVID-19 and other relevant diseases before going in-country.

What if I have a health condition?

If you have a pre-existing health condition that can be well-managed, you may still be able to become a VSA volunteer. Any health conditions that may impact your assignment must be disclosed and all volunteers going in-country are required to undergo a thorough medical check.

Is it safe?

While some countries may experience periods of political instability and can be vulnerable to natural disasters, VSA takes their duty of care seriously. An external security adviser works closely with VSA staff in Wellington and on the ground in the Pacific to regularly assess and ensure all assignment locales are safe for volunteers.

Before deployment, all volunteers are required to undergo an in-person briefing at the Wellington office to ensure they are prepared. During this briefing, the volunteer will take part in several sessions covering topics, such as how to keep safe on assignment, health and wellbeing, insurance and mental health.

For the majority of countries we work in, an in-country Programme Manager is present and is responsible for ensuring any risks are mitigated and volunteers are advised accordingly. Each volunteer will have a disaster preparedness plan, adequate emergency supplies, and access to VSA’s resources in the event of an emergency.

Can I take additional baggage?

Volunteers are provided with a standard economy ticket with applicable baggage allowance. We do not recommend taking additional luggage, but volunteers may do so at their own cost. If the assignment requires ‘tools of the trade’ or is asked by the Programme Manager or Partner Organisation to bring something (ie school resources), this cost will be met by VSA. Volunteers should not arrange to bring additional equipment or resources until a needs assessment has been made by the Programme Manager.

How can I support VSA if I can not volunteer?

For those unable to volunteer, there are many ways you can support VSA and the work we do with local partners to improve the well-being of communities in the Pacific. You could join your local VSA Interest Group, make a donation or bequest, become a VSA Member, like and share our content on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.