[Resolved] Original Volunteers / Volunteering services
I chose this company to help me with my travels. I decided to take a gap year after university and I wanted to do something constructive, all the companies I researched were extremely overpriced and because I was saving my own money from working in retail, I did some research and spoke to them directly and they seemed, pretty legitimate.
So everything was sorted I paid all my costs (125 pounds for joining fee + 250 pounds for the project in Tanzania). I chose two locations which were available from their website, I already had my tickets, purchased from STA Travel so I only really needed them to sort out my volunteering whilst I was staying in this countries.
Before I made any payments, Rachel Lewis, would call me 1500 times a minute to check whether I had everything sorted and if I needed any guidance, and when I could make the payment. After the payments had been made I did not hear from them again, other than very detailed e-mails with information that was not updated as frequently as it should have been.
My problems began as soon as I arrived at my first destination. Upon arrival, the airport pickup was not there as they said it would be and when I contacted the numbers that OV had given me (this was around 6am East African time, so around 4am Western Time) they said they could not locate me. It turned out that OV had told them that I would be at Mombasa Airport as opposed to Nairobi, and they had my travel itinerary so they knew where I would be arriving. The company did not contact me at all before travel to check that everything was set up and to be frank I do not think that they cared. The person I spoke to said that they could not do anything about that situation and that I needed to speak to OV for them to sort me out.
Upon arrival I was told that the volunteer house that had been out of use for over 5 months and that volunteers had been staying at the White Castle Hotel (the Kenyan welcome pack from OV stated all volunteers had to stay at the volunteer house). To make matters worse, not only did they not tell me the volunteer house was out of use, Emma also lied to me and told me there were another two volunteers already at the supposed 'volunteer house'. It turned to to be only me and absolutely no project to volunteer, as the Grandsons of Abraham Rescue Center was recruiting street kids and so there was nothing for me to do.
One day on my lack of volunteering I was out doing touristy things as a way to kill time and I was robbed and beaten near Fort Jesus. When i repported the incident to OV they completely ignored my pleas, screened my calls and refused to refund me my monies. Luckily I had payed via paypal and they found in my favour.
The second project I had with OV in Tanzania, I contacted the projects directly and did end up working with them and they explained that they have had problems with OV for years! All the money OV takes from you claiming it is for the projects is a LIE, the project manager told us they never transfer the funds, which confirmed what I had been told in Kenya by the manager there. I fundraised on gofundme.com for the Tanzanian project for some construction their are currently undertaking, because I felt extremely bad for them because they were surprised by how much we said we paid and the **nothing** they received.
I have police reports of items lost and explaining how I was beaten. I want compensation for the lack of enjoyment the company put me through, for their negligence and the harm they put through whilst relying on their misrepresentation. But most important of all I to prevent them from fooling other young travelers based on their cheap prices, I think it is unfair and unsafe, the time I was robbed could've been much worse than it actually was.
Customer care service did everything in their power to resolve this complaint. All attempts to contact the complainant have failed. Therefore, this complaint has been annulled and must not be considered where image of the company in question and it's services are concerned.
Original Volunteers Customer Care's Response, Jul 19, 2017
Dear Ana, we are saddened that you felt you had to write online, we have already responded to you earlier in the year but turning to your main points on this website specifically:
(i) "Before I made any payments, Rachel Lewis, would call me 1500 times a minute"
Hi Ana, we have records here of all phone calls, we did not call you very often, only to return calls.
(ii) "It turned out that OV had told them that I would be at Mombasa Airport as opposed to Nairobi, and they had my travel itinerary so they knew where I would be arriving".
In our information it states clearly that the airport for the Mombasa street kids project is Mombasa, this is where the volunteering project is. It is not practical for the staff to organise pick ups from Nairobi as it would be a 18 hour round trip. Yes you are correct that we told the project staff you would arrive in Nairobi as that was where you had bought flights to, but only so they would be aware. Occasionally a volunteer chooses to fly to Nairobi for a cheaper flight then to take the train overland independently, organising their train station pick up in Mombasa directly with the project staff as airport arrival times cannot be known as accurately in advance as flight times. The following advice taken from the website: **A pick up will be automatically organised for you from Mombasa airport. If you are travelling overland from elsewhere in Africa, shortly before you travel we will put you in touch with your Mombasa team to arrange a suitable meeting point or to get directions. Most volunteers coming overland from Nairobi take the train which usually arrives between 8am – 11am.**
(iii) "Upon arrival I was told that the volunteer house that had been out of use for over 5 months and that volunteers had been staying at the White Castle Hotel (the Kenyan welcome pack from OV stated all volunteers had to stay at the volunteer house)."
This was unfortunate, we had updated the information on the website but yes you are right the information pack emailed was out of date. We do not think this was in any way detrimental to your experience, things do change from time to time on projects, volunteering is unlike a traditional holiday where the hotel and rooms stay in the same for years.
(iv) "Emma also lied to me and told me there were another two volunteers already"
No one lied. Two volunteers were on the list but changed their plans. The street kids project in Mombasa is a quieter project compared to many others and this is described on the website that volunteer numbers may be as little as 1-10 at a time, unlike in other locations where there will be many more volunteers. If volunteer numbers had been a pre-requisite for choosing a project we would have advised you straightaway at the time of booking. We are often recommending one project over another if anyone wants a more lively experience in a larger group or a shared experience. It is not in our interests to encourage a placement if we feel it is not going to be a great fit.
(v) "Grandsons of Abraham Rescue Center was recruiting street kids and so there was nothing for me to do".
You described in your email to us that there were boys, just less than usual and that you were looked after by a member of the local team. Previously volunteers have been able to work on a one to one basis with the boys. The project has had many volunteers who have gone back independently for a second visit and worked on a one to one basis with the boys who need a lot of support before they are ready to move on to full time education at the sister project.
(vi) "One day on my lack of volunteering I was out doing touristy things as a way to kill time and I was robbed and beaten near Fort Jesus. When i reported the incident to OV they completely ignored my pleas, screened my calls and refused to refund me my monies."
The only money which had been paid to Original Volunteers was the registration fee and your project costs for your second project in Tanzania. We did not at any time receive any money for the street kids project in Mombasa. We were saddened that you claimed all your money back following a robbery in Mombasa which was unfortunate but not something that we could have foreseen or prevented, travelling in Kenya, does pose different risks than say, in your home town. It is very unfortunate.
(vii) "The second project I had with OV in Tanzania, I contacted the projects directly and did end up working with them "
You were able to travel to Tanzania to volunteer as we had already pre-organised the placement for you and put you in touch with the volunteer coordinator.
(viii) "The project manager told us they never transfer the funds, which confirmed what I had been told in Kenya by the manager there."
There has never been any outstanding payments for Kenya or Tanzania. All volunteers to the street kids pay the project directly. We assume you paid the project in Mombasa directly on arrival as you had been instructed to do so before travel. We also hope you paid the project in Tanzania for your stay as we did not have the funds from you to send them.
(ix) "I fundraised on gofundme.com for the Tanzanian project for some construction their are currently undertaking, because I felt extremely bad for them because they were surprised by how much we said we paid and the **nothing** they received ".
In Tanzania volunteers work at established projects throughout the local town, it sounds like you were fundraising for a project you were introduced to as our volunteer coordinator is not currently building anything at the moment. For a programme like Tanzania where volunteers work all over the town (compared to Mombasa where volunteers only work with one charity) there is no possibility to spread money around to each project. This is the usual arrangement when working with more than one organisation in one town. Many other projects work in the same way, our Ghana programme is an example of this. In Tanzania volunteer contributions go towards your host family and volunteer coordinator who organises placements for you.
(x) "I have police reports of items lost and explaining how I was beaten. I want compensation for the lack of enjoyment the company put me through, for their negligence and the harm they put through whilst relying on their misrepresentation."
It is a real shame that you missed the name of the airport to fly to before buying your flight (flying to Nairobi rather than Mombasa where your project was located) and that you were robbed in Fort Jesus but that it is not something that is within our control other than advising volunteers not to visit Fort Jesus on their own and for which we are only aware of one Fort Jesus robbery, your own, since sending volunteers in 2007 although we may insert a general advice for future volunteers to hire one of the trained guides which we include mention of in the free time section of the webpage.
SUMMARY: We hope that despite everything you did get a lot of valuable experiences and that it has not put you off travelling further. Indeed you must have made a close connection to one of the projects in Iringa to start fundraising for them. We can only hope sincerely that had your flight been into Mombasa and the robbery not taken place that you might have had a better experience.