What Makes ISV Tick? Educating and Inspiring Volunteers

by Narelle Webber on Monday, 13 July 2015

ISV has a lot of staff who have worked with the organization for over 10 years (me included). So why have we stuck around for so long?  An enormous part of our commitment is that we believe wholeheartedly in our mission to:

“Support sustainable development initiatives around the world through life-changing student volunteer and responsible adventure travel programs designed to positively change our world and to educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens”.


ISV volunteers conducting research and learning about endangered species in Costa Rica. (c) ISV

In short, volunteers come on our program and they learn, are inspired, and in many cases, continue working to make our planet a better place when they return home. That truly motivates us, as it should you!

Active learning is embedded in all aspects of the ISV experience. Here volunteers are discovering the history and culture of Cambodia at the incredible World Heritage site of Angkor Wat (c) ISV

Experiential education is embedded in all aspects of the ISV Program. Here volunteers are discovering the history and culture of Cambodia at the incredible World Heritage site of Angkor Wat (c) ISV

So what are we ‘educating’ volunteers about?

Every host country, project, community, local project partner, ISV leader and volunteer adds to our educational framework and to being a source of inspiration.  As an ISV volunteer, you have multi-faceted learning experiences in the areas of:

  1. Global issues in sustainable development – Human rights, environmental sustainability, eradication of poverty and inequality, climate change, etc., within a local and international context.
  2. Your host country – Culture, history, ecology, current social and sustainability issues and more!
  3. Responsible travel – What is a responsible traveler and how you can engage in travel sustainably.
  4. Global citizenship – Life beyond ISV, and how to take what you’ve learned to keep making a difference in your own life and locally in your community after returning home.

ISV participants learning about the conservation issues of the tropical forests that surround them. (c) ISV

How do we educate ISV participants?

The ISV Program is an amazing example of experiential learning (basically learning through experience) where we use reflection as a means to connect with our experiences and surroundings to gain a deeper understanding of them.

It starts with our field staff. I’m very proud of the calibre of ISV project and tour leaders. I challenge you to find more passionate or better qualified leaders anywhere. Our Project Leaders are marine biologists, conservation specialists, educators and humanitarian aid workers with tons of outdoor experience. They facilitate our program educational components during the volunteer project, which include:

  1. Interactive group discussions on “sustainability”, “responsible tourism” and “becoming a global citizen”.


    A participant quietly reflecting on their learning experiences in their journal in the mountains of Thailand. (c) ISV

  2. Keeping a journal of your experience. Throw away the “Dear Diary” stereotype and think along the lines of reflections on the indigenous leader who spoke to your group about their cultural values, or what you learned and how it felt to help care for rescued wildlife (and so forth)… It needn’t be a book, you can use notes, bullet points and drawings – be creative. Your journal is a valuable memento of your experience. 
  3. Engaging learning opportunities – fun and inspiring activities that aim to capture what’s unique and interesting about your project location. Visits to temples or markets, hearing from local guest speakers, discovery nature walks, preparing a traditional meal alongside your hosts; these are examples of why ISV volunteers often end up learning much more than they expected.

Volunteers learn about and then teach local children about preventable diseases such as Dengue in the Dominican Republic (c) ISV

Once on tour, you are in the hands of an incredibly energetic and knowledgeable ISV Tour Leader who is eager to show off their beautiful country to you and share information about the cultures, history and natural environments of the places we visit. They will also show you how you can travel responsibly while having the adventure of a lifetime.

The ISV Program isn’t for everyone. We’re forthright about this in our information meetings – we want volunteers who genuinely want to learn by challenging their views, and being open to new ideas, while finding that people across the globe have so much in common with people at home.

Thankfully, only very rarely do we see a person who joins the program and then is unmotivated or a bit ‘too cool for school’ to want to join in the learning based activities or discussions. Being shy is ok, and no one is forced to join in any activities they don’t want to, but for those few individuals who close their minds to learning, or even try and distract others who genuinely want to learn, it’s truly their loss and that saddens me. I’m so happy to say however that nearly all students rave about how much they learn through their ISV experience, and that’s a pat on the back that I know ALL ISV staff love to feel!


An ISV volunteer on a veterinary project providing care to rescued and rehabilitated Asian elephants. In the process, these volunteers learn about the impacts of elephant tourism in Thailand (c) ISV

This is me, in the Dominican Republic in a community where our volunteers had undertaken some development work. One of my favourite photos, ever. (c) Narelle Webber

This is me, in the Dominican Republic in a community where our volunteers had undertaken some development work. One of my favorite photos, ever. (c) Narelle Webber

Now, I have a friend who traveled to the Dominican Republic for a holiday years ago and she is the first to admit that she arrived to the country knowing nothing about the place or its people and flew home two weeks later knowing about the same as when she arrived. Having spent time in that country myself, I find it an unimaginable shame to have missed the opportunity to learn about and engage with such an extraordinary and vibrant culture, or to see little else than the hotel grounds. There is so much more to travel than resorts and beaches, just as there certainly is a lot more to learning than sitting in a classroom or reading a textbook. Stories like this one happen far too often, and every ISV staff knows that we can deliver a much deeper and meaningful positive travel experience.

If you are thinking about volunteering with ISV and you are genuinely interested in maximising life through learning, we promise that you’ve found the right organisation as “education” is what makes ISV tick.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Nelson Mandela

To learn more about ISV, our responsible travel principles and our volunteer projects around the globe, please visit our website at www.isvolunteers.org.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }