E-Book Review: The Underground Guide to International Volunteering

by Keith Savage · 6 comments


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When Kirsty Henderson of Nerdy Nomad contacted me about reviewing her new e-book, The Underground Guide to International Volunteering, I jumped at the opportunity. I found her site early in my blog formulation phase, and her candid posts and earning summaries were immensely helpful as I considered a similar path.

Volunteering has always been at the edge of my periphery, an option that I never took the time to investigate or understand if it’d be a good fit for me. As I’m focusing on experiential traveling now, however, volunteering is looking to be an excellent way to get in touch with the local culture and do some helpful work at the same time. Let the record state that I have pitifully little knowledge of and zero experience with volunteering.

What You Get

The Underground Guide to International Volunteering is, in Kirsty’s words:

…aimed at introducing travellers to the wonders of volunteering abroad and to help them break away from the usual backpacker trail, get involved with local communities around the world and make a difference in people’s lives in a variety of ways.

The e-book clocks in at a svelte 63 pages and a palatable $14 price tag. With the cost in mind, also consider that half of every sale will be donated to Kirsty’s favorite volunteering organization, Hands On Disaster Response. One of her life goals is to donate USD$10,000 for a good cause and this e-book is helping her reach that goal.

The Dirt

The e-book starts off with some background information about Kirsty, why she loves volunteering, and what the remainder of the book has in store. She clearly states her intentions with the e-book (to answer volunteering questions, instill confidence, and create a sense of excitement) while specifically stating she’s neither professional writer nor volunteering expert. I appreciated this candor and it set the stage nicely for my interpretation of the following sections. I would have liked a little more detail on Kirsty’s background – where she grew up, the nature of her previous trips, her previous field of work – as I think it would help readers compare her story with their own.

The next section is a basic overview of volunteering with some of the practical benefits clearly spelled out. I especially liked the comparison of physically-demanding volunteering to having a hardcore fitness regime. While the benefits of volunteering aren’t hard to discern, seeing them listed in the e-book was impressive and powerful. I found myself starting to think about what it would be like to volunteer for a month in some distant land.

Lest you think volunteering is for everyone, the third chapter requires you to do some introspection to determine if volunteering is actually a good match for you. Kirsty pulls no punches in explaining the conditions you need to be prepared to deal with (e.g., cramped quarters, lack of electricity and hot water, unpredictable weather). Part of this chapter also describes the type of people who volunteer, and Kirsty did a good job of showing there is no “type.” People from all walks of life choose to volunteer. This was a powerful and important point to make; I know I’ve stereotyped volunteers as do-gooders or zealots and that’s simply unfair.

This chapter also has the first interview with another traveler, one of this e-book’s strongest features. The interviews are interspersed throughout the e-book and provide satisfying alternate perspectives on the volunteering experience. The chapter ends with a discussion on the ethics of international volunteering. Ultimately, Kirsty doesn’t take a position citing it’s a personal choice, and I’d move this to an appendix as it drained away some of the built-up excitement.

Chapters four and five focus on helping you identify the type of volunteering experience that’s right for you, from the type of work to the location in the world. One aspect I hadn’t considered was finding volunteer organizations that jibe with my belief systems. Setting up a satisfying volunteering gig is a lot more complicated than choosing a destination simply because they have dancing sea turtles, for example.

The longest section in the e-book is about paying to volunteer. Perhaps these are the programs most of us think of when we consider volunteering. This is definitely true in my case. It never quite added up how I’d be paying thousands of dollars to give away my time for free. Thankfully, this e-book provides plenty of details on how to find organizations that are simply interested in your manpower. Kirsty makes it abundantly clear that she would never pay to volunteer, and her zeal in this regard comes through in the enlightening details around volunteer fees and where the money goes. Comparing the cost of similar fee-based volunteering programs was a nice touch.

The final three chapters provide excellent information on finding volunteer opportunities, related practical tasks like getting visas and packing, and an ever-growing list of volunteering organizations that Kirsty has personally researched.

The Design

This is one of the most visually-appealing e-books I’ve seen. Kirsty’s use of graphics and design elements are subtle yet effective. I particularly like the raised hand motif. The font is large for easy reading but not nursing home reader’s digest size. The pictures and interviews feel organically interwoven throughout the text, too. Having her Twitter handle in the footer is a nice social networking touch. One recommendation for the revised edition would be to make the chapter titles stand out a bit more. I really liked how the table of contents differentiated chapter titles from subsections.

The Bottom Line

This e-book will be helpful to anyone who knows little or nothing about volunteering, is actively thinking about voluteering for the first time, or whose had bad, expensive volunteer gigs and believes good experiences exist. Kirsty’s tips on finding free opportunities and organizations and programs that mesh with your interests could save you a lot of time searching. With a few minor exceptions, the book flows well and the interviews pack a strong punch. I think this e-book offers less to seasoned volunteers who have found their groove in the international volunteering circuit.

The e-book admirably achieves its goals, and I look forward to seeing how it grows with time. What are you waiting for? Get The Underground Guide to International Volunteering now!


AndiNo Gravatar April 13, 2010 at 11:44 AM

What an awesome idea…I hope that she is able to meet her goal! I really, really want to start volunteering more.
.-= Andi´s last blog ..Brasil: Day 9 =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar April 13, 2010 at 3:08 PM

I think I should give it a try too.

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Nomadic ChickNo Gravatar April 13, 2010 at 12:21 AM

Thorough review!! Since volunteer is on my plate I can’t wait to delve into her e-book. Were you able to see any opportunity to volunteer a month at a time?
.-= Nomadic Chick´s last blog .. =-.

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KeithNo Gravatar April 13, 2010 at 9:18 AM

Yep, plenty of volunteer organizations appear to offer two-week and four-week options, among others. Though as Kirsty points out in the e-book, it is tougher to find the free volunteer opportunities when your time is limited.

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SteveNo Gravatar April 12, 2010 at 8:52 PM

Nice review of Kirsty’s eBook. I’m not in a position at the moment to go and volunteer. However, I bought 2 copies of her eBook to support Kirsty and HODR. I like the work she’s doing with them to help people dig out of all the mud and rubble. Haiti’s a mess. Thank goodness for people like Kirsty who are able to jump in and make a difference.

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KeithNo Gravatar April 12, 2010 at 10:52 PM

Thanks Steve! Kirsty’s volunteering efforts really are amazing. In her e-book she shows you how it’s beneficial to both the people on location and yourself. Win-win.

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