Friday, June 27, 2008

What's the deal with CADIP?


UPDATE: I NO LONGER RECOMMEND CADIP. They need to stop treating every prospective volunteer like a brainless load of cash. And Roy needs to learn to sign his emails with both his first AND last names.

If you're looking for an organized volunteering alternative, consider Service Civil International. Same setup as CADIP, but much nicer to deal with.

I see that a lot of you end up here when searching for “CADIP scam” or “CADIP legitimate”. Some of you even take the time to write emails and ask questions about that group.

I am not sure what’s responsible for this recent spike in interest in CADIP. I did see that the organization started to use Craigslist to recruit volunteers, and I can only assume that’s how most people heard about it for the first time. And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that with everything else that’s on Craigslist, the company may or may not be legitimate.

CADIP is legitimate. At least it was the last time I checked. It’s a big Canadian volunteer work camp coordinator and has presence and connections all over the world. And because it’s big, it offers many volunteer options, and because it offers many options, it uses a lot of volunteers. And not only volunteers from Canada. As with any big organization, some of those volunteers have excellent experiences, and others -  not so excellent. And some – utterly crappy. A couple of people who had utterly crappy CADIP volunteer gigs sent me emails screaming at me for recommending the company on my blog.

I feel your pain, but the fact that your volunteer placement was less than stellar doesn’t mean that the company is a rip-off. I may hate Air France so much that my groin hurts, but even though EVERY flight I had with them turned into a total nightmare, it doesn’t mean that Air France is a scam. Or maybe it is, and I didn’t get the memo.  You never know with airlines these days.

As any placement agency, CADIP charges a fee. But unlike other placement agencies, their fees are actually reasonable. They also offer volunteer options in Europe, which in this day and age just might be the cheapest way for North Americans to spend some time on the old continent.

When it comes to CADIP’s volunteer programs elsewhere, they only act as a middleman offering placement with a variety of local NGOs in far away lands. With a little bit of detective work googling, you could probably locate the same opportunities yourself. That’s how I came across CADIP for the first time. I worked on the same program alongside their volunteers. They seemed well organized and happy with their lot.

After reading your less than pleasant CADIP stories, I sent an email to the overlords in Canada expressing my concern about the current state of things. If and when they respond, I will post their reply here.

In the meantime, cut them some slack. Just because they’re Canadian (hey, nobody’s pefect!) doesn’t mean they don’t know what they’re doing ☺

Monday, June 23, 2008

Musical journeys

When hearing musical journeys y’all probably think I’m gonna go all Césaria Évora or Maria de Barros on you. Nah, not this time. That would be way too easy. Though I admit to being a huge fan of Cape Verdean music, and I wish I could be in Mindelo for the Baia das Gatas festival in August, there’s more to Anna’s musical travels than São Vicente.

Actually, I’d much rather be in Canada on July 1st to see Daniel Lanois play at the Montreal Jazz Festival. Now, I’m not a fan of jazz - too noisy for my taste. But I do like Montreal, and oddly enough, have never been there during summer.

Daniel Lanois is a whole ‘nuther thing altogether. I bought “Acadie” way back when at a garage sale simply because I thought he looked cute in the cover photo. It was only 2 bucks and fortunately, the music turned out to be nice. Very nice, actually. A nice blend of something very listenable. I’m clueless when it comes to music and normally divide it into the kind I like and the rest. “Acadie” I liked. Which was odd, because to this day I’m not a fan of artists Lanois produced. Including U2. And even weirder, the only U2 album I do like – "Zooropa", he didn’t produce.

Acadie”, however, was impossible NOT to like. That the sexy voice occasionally sung in French helped, too. The following album “For The Beauty of Wynona” made me want to chew my leg off and bleed to death. And that was it.

I went about my happy life and listened to “Acadie” every now and then. For the past 15 years, or so…

Then sometime this April I turned on the TV and saw some ugly old fart talking at me about the new U2 album. I’ll be damned. Lanois was still alive. And on Swedish TV. He even had a record out of his own. And a documentary film. And probably a few other things as well.
I diligently trolled the internet to get the feel for his new album and decided I quite liked it. (Don’t worry, I didn’t deprive a rich guy of his royalties, I only listened to the free samples.)

Turned out Mr. Lanois has quite a following in Sweden, complete with hysterical fan girls fainting at the very mention of his name (not bad for an man, wouldn’t you say?). And it was one of those fan girls who told me about her planned trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival. 
And here I thought I was bad for flying down to Stockholm to see Crowded House last year! Ha! That’s nothing compared with a trek from Sweden to Canada. Well, at least Neil Finn being still somewhat vaguely good-looking wasn’t an assault on the eyes. But Daniel Lanois? Man! That guy has AGED!

However, if I didn’t have to look at Mr. Lanois up close, I quite would like to hear him play live, I admit. At least he still has his sexy voice. But maybe next time… So don’t die on me, old man! At least not before you play “Still Waters” for me live, OK?

And this is the song that has been the soundtrack to my travels for the past 15 years. A curious choice for a non-believer like me.

And here's a great site dedicated to Mr. Lanois put together by some guy on squidoo.

PS. I still can't over the fact that the old man has screaming fan girls who follow him around the world.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Voluntouring scams

The crappy voluntourism post prompted more emails (you people need to learn how to leave comments, or otherwise I’ll humiliate you on the blog, are we clear?), and the two messages that immediately stood out inspired the rant for today.

I also have to apologize for the recent voluntourism overload. This is not intentional, and I promise we will return to our regularly scheduled programming soon. I hope. Unless people will keep sending me goofy emails and cry about how they got ripped off.

Yes, today’s topic – volunteering scams.

What? You thought volunteering was immune to scams and rip-offs? I said it before, and I’m going to say it again – volunteering is BIG business. Bigger than you can imagine. And as in any business, some people get cheated.

What my correspondents described is a rather mundane volunteering placement scam. How anyone with two brain cells to rub together could fall for it, is beyond me. People, people… Just because someone posts on internet forums looking for volunteers, appears to have a website with pictures of sad children and has a sappy story to match, doesn’t mean that someone is legit.

Here are some warning signs:

1.    They (whoever “they” might be) won’t tell you upfront how much your placement will cost. They insist that you email them for more information, and when you do, they will still be very evasive.

2.    They claim to be a registered NGO in whatever country they are based, but refuse to provide the registration number. You did ask for their charity’s registration number, didn’t you? No? Oh well…

3.    The only form of payment they will accept is a bank transfer. They won’t agree that you hand them hard cold cash upon arrival. (Which, by the way, in my experience, is the preferred MO of most legit grass-roots NGOs to conduct business. Cash is king. Much easier to embezzle, too.)

4.    They refuse to provide you with any information regarding your placement until you complete the bank transfer.

Normally, the sums of money they ask for are not outrageous, anywhere from 300 dollars to 300 euros. These people know it’s about the standard going rate for a “budget” placement – the type where your room and board are covered for 2 to 4 weeks.  Where do they tend to operate? Anywhere! India, Nigeria and Senegal seem to be the most recent hot spots.

How to avoid getting ripped off? Do you homework, ask the right questions, and if the answers are not forthcoming, move on. There are hundreds of legit charities out there itching for volunteers. But the best way to avoid a scam, especially for an inexperienced first time wanna-be volunteer, is to use a reputable BIG organization such as CADIP or Service Civil International.

Case closed.


India is incredible and all that, but for the love of humanity, before you hand over your money please check out carefully any organization you're not familiar with.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Crappy voluntour experience?

Somebody asked me recently about a crappy volunteering experience. And then somebody else searched for the very same topic on this blog.

Hmmm… Interesting…

As with everything else in life, you really can’t predict how your voluntour will turn out. My absolutely worst experience happened in a (somewhat) civilized former Russian republic, where I was showing local teachers how to incorporate media and technology in teaching English. The donated media and equipment was stolen even before I got to the school. My handlers, unaware of the fact that I could understand them, tried to scam me in more ways than one. Let’s just say that after one week, I packed my bags and did a midnight run. And the worst part? This gig was arranged by a much recommended placement service in such a need of a volunteer for this particular post, they agreed to waive a program fee. When hearing about my complaints, the agency did absolutely nada to rectify the situation.

What became painfully obvious from this experience is that many volunteer placement services do not pre-screen local charities they work with/for. Even though they may claim otherwise, their grasp of what is actually happening in the host country may be minimal. And depending on the situation, there might be nothing they can do to help. Scary? You betcha!

Having worked on both sides of the volunteering business, because let’s face it – that’s exactly what it is – a big, fat, money-making business, the horror stories I could share with you are many. Local directors who embezzle the funds, local coordinators who don’t give a damn, volunteers who do nothing but drink beer and screw local girls, volunteers who are exploited financially by unscrupulous local staff and/or their host families, and the list could go on…

Yet for every crappy experience, there are hundreds, if not thousands of positive ones that change people’s lives, yours including, for the better. In my volunteering, I choose to remember and focus on these experiences.

If you prefer to dwell on the negatives, then maybe you should stay home. Just sayin’.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On volunteering, AGAIN

It always amazes me when people bemoan the lack of affordable, low-cost options for volunteering abroad. They say that no matter how hard they look, all they can find are programs that charge steep participation fees. You know, the ones that want a couple thousand euros/dollars/pounds for 4 weeks of work in Peru/Africa/Nepal.

And hence many would-be volunteers complain that finding a low-cost, grass-roots opportunity is almost impossible without having contacts overseas. Well, them folks are not looking hard enough, me thinks.

After two days of trolling the internet (I’m researching info for my upcoming book), I have compiled a list of 175 organizations that are desperate for volunteers and don’t charge you an arm and a leg. Some don’t charge you anything at all. Some ask that you pay for your room and board. Some are so bold they even request that you contribute to the project you plan to work on. And even with those add-ons, the total expenses rarely go above $400 a month. Not a week, as some big guys want to charge you, but a month. These organizations are in all corners of the globe, from Nicaragua, to India to Kenya. And those are just the ones that have websites!

This makes me think that many of these “I can’t find anything! Boo! Help me!” wanna-be volunteers are simply lazy. Which on the one hand is good news for me – my book will have a captive audience. But on the other hand, this utter lack of initiative makes me sad. Truly, some people would do more good by staying home and donating money to a charity of their choice.

Harsh? Maybe. Rude? You betcha! However, if such a mind-numbingly simple task as using google proves to be too difficult for some, do you really think they are suited to more complex work abroad?

Let me get back to my research before I offend the two remaining readers of this blog…

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ten airlines with decent ECONOMY class food

Articles like this one make me laugh. Golly gee whiz! So the airlines still serve gourmet meals in first/premium/business/or whatever it’s called these days class? And how exactly is that newsworthy?

Unfortunately, whenever we hear about improvements in the on-board chow, it’s always for the folks sitting in the front of the bus. For the cattle class economy, the reality is starkly different.

I bet if Ms. Heger was to write about outstanding food served in the poor people class, she wouldn’t have all that much to say. And why should she? It’s so much easier to blab on about the fabulous first class cuisine in first class on Singapore Airlines. And because I fly economy, stories like hers are about as useful to me as two tits on a bull.

A real achievement would be listing those airlines that still feed decent food to the cheap hordes flying in seats that don’t recline into lie-flat beds. Do such airlines even still exist?

Yep, and here’s a few:

1. Kingfisher. I dunno how they do it, but somehow they do it. They manage not to poison you with their meals. The food is always tasty, fresh and served with a smile.
I love Vijay Mallya, I love Kingfisher and can’t wait until they start flying internationally. Kingfisher is India’s first and only 5-star airline and it shows. Even in economy.

The rest is listed in no particular order.

2. Asiana. Even on short haul routes between Korea and Japan you get a nice, edible, pretty looking meal.

3. Japan Airlines. Not bad for economy class. But on shorter flights all you get is a drink. Bummer…

4. Korean Air. If you go for the Korean style meal, you will do just fine.

5. Singapore Airlines. I think this is one airline where you just can’t go wrong, be it in business or economy. They’ll feed you good.

6. Qatar Airways. I was duly impressed with the chow in the back of the bus. Nice and filling. And pretty looking, too. And I’m even more impressed now that Qatar flies to Stockholm.

7. El Al. This might be the only airline where the food in economy gets better marks than in business class. And I’m saying this even though I can’t stand hummus.

8. Emirates. Well, this is a toss up. Last time I flew with them, the food was only OK. But it seems that on flights to Japan, the food is much better than on those to India. Hmmm... Interesting...

9. Thai Airways. Personally I can’t stand this airline, but their economy food is good. Much better than Malaysia Air.

10. EVA Air. I somehow always end up with the Asian style meal on their flights but can’t complain. As most Asia based airlines, they take care of their passengers and don’t make them gag.

See, it wasn’t impossible! Ten airlines that don’t poison you in economy, at least not according to my taste. True, my taste has been known to be somewhat perverted, but I'm not dead yet (which incidentally, almost happened after consuming the suspicious goo served by Finnair on a flight to Narita.)

For more on airline meals go to this site. These people are hardcore and even take photos. Now, how’s that for dedication, huh?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

In Pictures - Bhutan

I’m down with a vicious case of summer flu (or whatever it is that sits in my throat, nose and head) and that makes me a very cranky person. On a day like today, I just wish I were somewhere else. So to facilitate my escapism, I’m going to sort through some pretty photos.
(Because there's no Calgon where I live.)

Thimphu at night

On the way to Haa


Panoramic Paro


Seen in Thimphu