FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions About VLM

1. How is VLM different from other short-term volunteer programs?
2. How much does it cost to participate?
3. What does the donation cover?
4. I don’t have $2,500. How can I afford to participate?
5. How does the cost of this program compare to other short-term volunteer opportunities in Africa?
6. I am not a teacher. Can I participate in VLM?
7. Is it safe?
8. How will I be able to communicate with people back home while I am abroad?
9. What is required of me before the trip?
10. What if the dates for VLM don’t work for me exactly? What if I have to return a little early to go back to school or to a family event?
11. I applied to VLM and was put on the waiting list. When will I know if I can travel?
12. Is there someone I can talk to more about VLM?

1. How is VLM different from other short-term volunteer programs?

VLM is unique because it emphasizes four pillars: community living, ministry to the poor, Vincentian spirituality, and simple living.

a. Community living:

As a VLM volunteer, you will not be traveling to Africa by yourself or living alone. You will be living and working alongside other VLM (3-4 at each site) and also the Daughters of Charity. You will be a part of two communities during your time in Ethiopia or Kenya. Community living helps provide support, encouragement, and guidance for the volunteers. Also, there is a VLM coordinator present at each site who will be able to assist you throughout the program. The coordinator leads the group and helps to organize the activities at each site.

Living and working alongside the Daughters of Charity is a highlight of this program for many people. The Daughters of Charity have a long-standing relationship in each community and provide wisdom and insight about the people you will be serving. They are amazing women who spend their lives dedicated to working with the poor. VLM volunteers find that living with the Daughters of Charity is both fun and also inspiring.

b. Ministry to the poor:

VLM work with people living in conditions of poverty in Ethiopia and Kenya. The VLM ministry often involves working with children; however, there are often opportunities to work with adults and elderly community members as well.

In Ethiopia, VLM work in schools providing English classes for students and/or professional development workshops for teachers. VLM have been working in Ethiopia since 2005, and the program is very popular with the children in the community. The students line up for hours before school waiting to attend! VLM has also formed long-standing relationships with the teachers at each school, who are eager to participate in professional development and teacher training opportunities.

In Kenya, VLM facilitate a summer camp for students who are out of school for the August holiday. Summer camps range in size from 150-400 children. The VLM provide enrichment activities, drama, music, sports, and sometimes technology lessons to the children. Children who attend camp rotate through the activities each day. You will get to know many children by working at the camp.

In the last few years there have been many other opportunities in Kenya as well. These include: ministry to elderly community members, teaching English as a Second Language to high school students, facilitating a spiritual retreat for local youth, and helping to establish a small business cooperative for local women.

c. Vincentian Spirituality:

VLM is a Vincentian service program. Vincentians believe in creating systemic change by working in solidarity with the poor. As one former volunteer described, “being Vincentian means knowing the names of the poor.” VLM return to the same communities year after year, in order to create lasting, sustainable change. We do not simply send volunteers once and then move on to a new site. VLM also fundraise during the year to support projects at each site, including:

  • building libraries in Thigio, Kenya, and Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
  • sponsoring over 150 children to attend school in Ethiopia
  • providing health care for 200 people in Kenya
  • purchasing a school bus for Bahir Dar, Ethiopia
  • helping to finance the building of a primary school in Jimma, Ethiopia

Vincentians believe that reflection is central to any service experience. VLM spend time reflecting each day alone and with their communities. Vincentians believe that service without reflection is just work. VLM volunteers also gather after the programs have ended, in October of each year, to reflect with current and former VLM about their experiences in Africa.

d. Simple living:

Simple living is an important part of this experience. In Ethiopia and Kenya, you will have limited access to phones and email. Living accommodations, although comfortable, will be much different than what you experience in the United States. There will be times when there is no running water or electricity. You will be very well fed but it may lack the variety and familiar foods you are used to. Keep this in mind as you move forward with your application to VLM.

2. How much does it cost to participate?

All volunteers are required to make a $2,500 donation to the Daughters of Charity

In addition to the donation, volunteers are required to pay for the following expenses:

a. Cost of a tourist visa
i. Approx. $50-80
b. Vaccinations
i. Cost depends on your health insurance–call your insurance company to find out if vaccinations are covered in your plan
c. Transportation to/from Chicago for orientation in June and the annual retreat in October
d. Supplies

3. What does the donation cover?

The donation, as well as the other expenses you need to pay (listed above a-d), is all that you are responsible for.

This is how your donation is used:

$1,500 of your donation is used to defray the cost of your international airfare, travel insurance, and in-country transportation. Airfare is usually between $1,800-2,500. Travel insurance is an additional $150. The Daughters of Charity pay the remaining cost that is not covered by your donation. You don’t have to worry about buying your own international plane ticket.

All meals and accommodations are provided at Orientation, in each country, and during the annual October retreat.

The remaining $1,000 of your initial donation is given directly to the Daughters of Charity in each country to advance their mission. The Daughters of Charity provide education, health care, and other projects in each site.

4. I don’t have $2,500. How can I afford to participate?

Most VLM volunteers (if not all) do not have immediate access to that much money. People make the donation in different ways. Most volunteers do some sort of fundraising with friends, family, schools, or churches. The most common form of fundraising is for future volunteers to simply send out a letter or email to friends and family explaining VLM, the Daughters of Charity, and that s/he will be doing that summer. People have found that friends and family can be extremely generous, especially when they know their donations are 100% tax-deductible and are going toward a great cause. Many volunteers who were worried about the cost of the donation found that they actually were able to raise more than $2,500. You never know until you try, but don’t be afraid to tell people you know about what you are doing and how they can help.

There are many former VLM with great ideas about how to go about fundraising. Additionally, some initial VLM donors have turned into long-standing supporters of VLM and our on-going projects in Ethiopia and Kenya.

In addition to providing monetary support, friends and family sometimes offer to buy supplies. Since each volunteer is required to bring a certain number of supplies to Africa, this type of donation is also very helpful.

5. How does the cost of this program compare to other short-term volunteer opportunities in Africa?

If you are researching other volunteer programs you will find that there are many costs associated with sending volunteers to Africa. International airfare is extremely expensive and travel insurance is mandatory. How does the cost of VLM compare to other international volunteer programs of comparable length? Here are a few examples:

Projects Abroad volunteer program in Ethiopia:
Program cost: $2,800. Does not include international airfare, visas, supplies, or vaccinations.

Cross-Cultural Solutions volunteer program in Africa:
Program cost: $3,950. Does not include international airfare, visas, supplies, or vaccinations.

Global Volunteer Network volunteer program in Kenya:
Program cost: $2,000. Does not include international airfare, visas, supplies, or vaccinations.
*The cost of international airfare alone usually adds an additional $1,800-2,500

6. I am not a teacher. Can I participate in VLM?

Yes! We have placements for non-teachers in both countries.

7. Is it safe?

VLM will not send volunteers to places that are unsafe. If safety is compromised you will not go, or your leaving the country will immediately be arranged. In the time we have sent volunteers to Africa this has never been a problem. You should also know that the Daughters of Charity you will be working with have your safety at the forefront of their minds. They take every precaution necessary to ensure the volunteers are healthy and safe. All volunteers stay on compounds that are guarded and surrounded by a fence.

8. How will I be able to communicate with people back home while I am abroad?

While you are gone, it is best to have the mindset that you will not be able to communicate often. Email is sometimes available, but it is very unreliable. Most VLM sites are quite rural with limited (sometimes no) access to computers or the internet.

When you arrive in Ethiopia or Kenya, the VLM director will be notified and will call your parents or emergency contact to let them know you have arrived safely. All houses in each country will have a phone that can be used in case of an emergency. You will probably find, however, when you arrive in Ethiopia or Kenya, that you appreciate the low-key, low-tech lifestyle. People say that it is nice to live for a few weeks without relying on email or their phones. You will have more time to spend with the people you are serving and to be present to them and your community members.

9. What is required of me before the trip?

After you receive news of your acceptance in March you will be contacted by your site coordinator. From March until June you are expected to communicate over email with your coordinator and the other volunteers going to your site. Your coordinator will give you directions on how to secure a visa, which supplies you need to buy, how to get vaccinations, etc. The coordinator will also lead several reflection activities over email that you are required to respond to.

Email is an important part of the pre-trip communication. If you have a hard time responding to emails, you will have to make a conscious decision when you apply to VLM to be in touch with your coordinator over email.

You are required to have a visa before June 1st. It usually takes about a month to get your visa so you must plan accordingly. You will also use this time to secure donations and to fundraise if you choose to.

A mandatory VLM orientation is held in Chicago at the end of June for 2 days. Immediately following orientation, the Ethiopia group departs. The Kenya group will return home and depart in August.

10. What if the dates for VLM don’t work for me exactly? What if I have to return a little early to go back to school or to a family event?

Unfortunately, the dates are not flexible. It is extremely important that you travel with the other volunteers and stay in Africa the full amount of time to complete your commitment. It is disruptive to the people you serve and your community members if someone has to leave early or come late. Sometimes people are interested in applying but the dates do not work. In that case, you are encouraged to apply another year.

If something unforeseen comes up between the time you are accepted and the time you leave for Africa, such as a family illness or emergency, we will work with you so that you can travel a different summer. However, if something comes up that is unforeseen but not an emergency, the program is non-refundable. Please make sure before you apply that the dates and schedule work for you.

11. I applied to VLM and was put on the waiting list. When will I know if I can travel?

VLM is a competitive program and can only send a certain number of people each year. However, if you are wait-listed, there may still be a chance that you can go. We will alert you by April 1st if there is a slot for you. If not, please consider reapplying in the future! If you are not immediately accepted it does not mean you are not a good candidate for the program, but due to limited space VLM cannot always accommodate everyone. Speak with the VLM director about your application, and how you can improve your chances of acceptance in the future.

12. Is there someone I can talk to more about VLM?

Yes! Applying to work for a month in Africa is a big decision. You are welcome to contact the Director, Jessica Werner, at any time. She can also put you in contact with former VLM who will be happy to share their experience with you. Don’t hesitate to ask!

Jessica Werner
(612) 554-5434
jessica.werner@doc.org