Your teenager has just announced that they are planning on volunteering at an archaeology dig in France next summer. Your first reaction might not be instant excitement but rather slight apprehension.

We fully understand that as a parent or carer, you are concerned about your child’s welfare and safety when sending them out in the big world. To stop your worries from taking over, we have put this guide together to hopefully address all your questions and advise you on how to best support them.

What is a teenage project?

Concordia offer teenagers from the age of 16 to travel abroad and volunteer on a project. There are two different forms of teenage projects but all of them are in European countries. The first type of project your teenager can volunteer on is a project specially designed for young people aged 16 to 17 years old. The second option is projects that are open for volunteers from the age of 16 and up. For example, Germany has several young people's programmes for people between 16 and 26 years old. All teenage projects have extra supervision. Due to the level of care  being increased when working with young people aged 16 – 17 much thought has gone into the organisation of the work and logistics of the projects. The following are guidelines set out by our Alliance network regarding volunteering with teenagers:

  1. The leaders of the projects will be legally responsible for the teenagers on their specific projects and if the teenagers need to leave during the project then they will have to have signed authorisation by the teenager’s parent or guardian.
  2. The volunteering work will be less technical than an adult project and they will work less hours (a guideline is to work for around 5 hours a day to the normal 7 hours a day.
  3. There is normally up to 3 or 4 camp leaders for a group of teenagers. The group is normally made up between 12 – 20 volunteers.
  4. In France all teenage projects are visited by an Officer from the Ministry of Youth and Sport who will check official papers, hygiene and the organisation of that project. Although other countries might not have such stringent laws around working with teenagers’ they will however ensure that there projects are run to a high standard.
  5. Volunteers are not allowed to leave the project by themselves, and they are always under the supervision of a coordinator.
  6. On some projects they might also be volunteers who are 18+ as well as younger volunteers under 15, but this should stated within the project description.

Supporting your teenager before the trip

Volunteering abroad can be an amazing and life-changing experience. However, if this is the first time your teenager is doing volunteering or going abroad by themselves, it's a good idea to have a discussion with them about their motivations and expectations, their worries and fears and any other questions they might have regarding traveling or volunteering.

You teenager will receive an Information Sheet from the project host about a month before the project starts. This important document has all the details about the project, and it is essential that both you and your teenager read the entire Information Sheet. If the project only is a month away and your teenager has not mentioned the Information Sheet, ask them to see it and if they have not received it please contact Concordia. 

Safety while volunteering

The most common concern among parents and carers is without a doubt safety. At Concordia, the safety of our volunteers is our highest priority and we never send any volunteers to projects if we have any concerns about their safety on the project or in the country. We liaise with our overseas partner to get up to date information about the projects and check the FCO advice on the country before sending volunteers on a project. 

Should your teenager experience any issues or illness whilst volunteering on the project, they will be encouraged to talk to the project coordinator as they are in the best position to help. If your teenager feels like the problem is not getting solved, they can then speak to the partner organisation who will try to assist. In case this doesn’t work, please contact Concordia who will try to help. If you as a parent or carer need to urgently talk to your teenager, please call the project coordinator’s phone number that you will find on the Information Sheet. The Concordia Staff Team are always here to answer your questions and concerns. 

Homesickness is very normal. Adjusting to a new and different environment and meeting a lot of new people might be overwhelming for your teenager despite their excitement. If they contact you, try to reassure them that it will be okay and encourage them to overcome any fears or challenges they might experience.

If Concordia and the project partners need to know any extra information such as any medical issues you teenager might have, please make sure that they include this information in their project application and check that they have packed all necessary medication before departing. 

Insurance

Concordia stipulates that all volunteers must have their own travel and health insurance, so, please make sure you have purchased travel insurance for your teenager if they do not already have or are not covered under your own insurance. Travel insurance covers things like flight changes, baggage cover, theft and other personal losses.

Accommodation and food

The project will always organise and provide accommodation as well as three meals a day. If you child has any dietary requirements or allergies, please remind them to write it in their project application. The types of accommodation can vary depending on the project. They could be sleeping in a tent, on mats on the floor in a community hall or staying in a youth hostel. The volunteers will usually share accommodation with the same sex. All information about the accommodation will always be made clear on the Information Sheet including the address of the accommodation. The project host are expected to check that the accommodation health and safety is in line with the country’s laws.

Pocket money

Even though the food and accommodation is provided by the project, your teenager might want to go out for lunch or join an excursion with some of their new friends. Depending on the project, the availabilities of leisure activities and alternative food options than what is provided by the project will vary. However, bringing some pocket money for snacks, souvenirs and possible excursions is definitely a good idea. Encourage your teenager to save up any money they might get from birthdays, Christmas or part-time work. 

The many benefits of volunteering abroad

Although you as a parent or carer might have concerns about letting your teenager travel on their own, the list of benefits from volunteering abroad is endless. As the project is open for people from all around Europe, your teenager will live and volunteer alongside people from many different cultures, backgrounds and ways of life. This enables them to communicate, share ideas and learn about each other. Volunteering can be a very intense and rewarding experience which often results in long lasting friendships across boarders.

The type of volunteering varies a lot from project to project and could be anything from environmental to festival work. No matter what kind of volunteering your teenager will take part in, they will without a doubt come home with lots of new skills. Whilst volunteering on a project they will acquire skills such as compassion, teamwork, leadership and communication.

Lastly, volunteering abroad will also enhance your teenagers career opportunities both now and in the future. Having volunteered overseas is something that many employers notice and value high as it shows courage, independence and determination. 

Read more about the benefits of volunteering here.

Checklist

We know there is a lot to consider and organise for both you and your teenager so here is a final checklist that we advise you go through with your teenager 6-4 weeks before they travel:

  • Have you read through the Information Sheet and all other emails you teenager has received regarding the volunteering?
  • Are all flights/trains/buses to the meeting point booked?
  • Have you made sure they don’t need a visa? (in you are not sure, visit gov.uk for updated visa information)
  • Make sure their passport is valid for at least 6 months when they arrive in the project country.
  • Have they got their travel insurance? It is essential that the insurance cover medical treatment and repatriation costs – some cheaper ones only cover lost or delayed baggage!
  • Make a photocopy of all their important documents.
  • Write a list of important contact phone numbers such your own and the project coordinator on site’s as well as Concordia’s contact details.
  • Help them creating a rough plan of their travel route, from start to finish with any stops in-between.
  • Agree on how you will stay in touch; mobile, email, social media or Skype? You might also want to discuss how often you will be in touch.
  • Find out which currency they use in the country where your teenager is going and make sure all financial arrangements are sorted in advance. Does your teenager understand how they can withdraw money and what to do to keep the money safe? Do they need a visa debit card? Do they have enough cash for the first week?
  • Help them making a packing list. Remind them that they are not going on a beach holiday and that they will need practical clothes and shoes. They might need to bring a sleeping bag and roll/inflatable mat but this information will be on the Information Sheet. Also remind them to pack all essentials like medication, travel documents and contact list in their hand luggage in case their main luggage gets delayed.

Supporting your child after the trip

The most important thing is to be prepared for change! Traveling abroad independently and volunteering on project with people from many different countries will make your teenager more resilient and more confident. This might be their first step towards adulthood so be understanding and supportive.

Please check out our FAQ or contact us for any other information about Concordia’s Teenage Projets.