What exactly is vostel.de?

vostel.de is a volunteering platform and an intermediary between non-profit organisations and volunteers.

Non-profit organisations use vostel.de to promote volunteering projects by putting them online on our platform. These projects are verified by our team and published provided that they meet all our criteria. Interested volunteers can find out about all projects on the platform and either register directly for a project or get in touch with the organisations themselves. The use of the platform is of course free of charge!

vostel.de is currently available in Cologne, Munich and Berlin. In total, over 300 non-profit organizations and almost 8000 volunteers are registered on the platform.

What is vostel.de not about?

On vostel.de you won’t find fulltime-volunteering opportunities nor volunteering programs that would include support in applying for visa, accommodation or travel funds.

But have a look at weltwärts, ijdg or VEM  – they all offer South-North volunteer programs and might be the right ones to address.

I want to support social projects with vostel – how does it work?

No matter if you already know what purpose you would like to support or if you are still looking for the right project – vostel.de collects social, ecological and cultural projects that are in need of volunteers.

Our filters allow you not only to search directly for particular topics and target groups, but also for specific districts in your city and projects that match your German language skills or your schedule.

You should think about how much time you can spare for volunteering work early on. While certain projects require only a one-time commitment, for others, regular and long-term support is important. Especially, when working for organizations where the establishment of trustful relationships with people is of high importance (for example, when working with children), you should exclude a single or irregular volunteer assignment from the beginning. (See also “Thinking about long-term volunteering“)

What requirements do I need to fulfill as a volunteer?

First of all, you should be motivated to volunteer for projects that reflect your preferences and competencies, to find out about different lifestyles and backgrounds, and to constantly learn new things. High (intrinsic) motivation should not be underestimated as you cannot always count on a thank you for your support (see also “Be brave and try to change things!“).

The specific requirements for your volunteering mission can be found in the project description. Many of the projects listed on vostel.de require little or no prior knowledge or experience. However, others, especially those that imply close interactions with people, often require prior target group-specific knowledge. For that reason, please always read the requirements thoroughly and evaluate for yourself whether you fulfill them (especially in terms of availability and German language skills). In addition, you should also consider in advance whether you are sufficiently emotionally prepared for the project (see also “What do I have to keep in mind for certain projects and what can I or can I not expect?”)

For some projects, you have to provide a health or police clearance certificate. This often concerns projects with food or children and teenagers. You can find out how to get these certificates in our FAQ (under Health and Safety Certificate).

How do I volunteer with an impact?

The “impact” of your commitment may seem small at times, but you can be assured: Your support is needed and its impact often goes far beyond mere task fulfillment. In order for the time and effort you invest as a volunteer to be fully effective, there are some basic things to keep in mind:

Be reliable!
Even if you work for free, it is important that you stick to commitments. Volunteering requires a lot of self-motivation which might have reduced over night compared to the evening before when you signed up for a project. Please be aware that the people in the organization of your choice are counting on you and may have prepared especially for you. If you cancel your assignment on short notice, they have wasted their time – and of course your helping hands are missing.

Think about whether you want to help in the long term!
Apart from the fact that you will enjoy work more when knowing processes and those you work with on the ground, the impact of your volunteering work is greater if you help in the long term. It is a great asset for the organization if they know and trust you, and if they do not need to explain each task to you again. In addition, it makes a big difference, especially when working with people, whether you just “stop by” or if they can count on you in the long run. Therefore: If you really want to make a difference, try to support as regularly as possible.

Relax and do not get discouraged!
Sometimes expectations that volunteers have with regard to themselves or concerning a project are not fulfilled. Maybe your tasks are different than expected or you feel like you cannot work efficiently enough. There are several reasons for this, and as a long-term volunteer you can certainly change much of it (see also “Be brave and try to change things!”). However, especially in the beginning, we advise you to relax, to accept unexpected situations and to help where your help is needed. This also means that you should not be disappointed if those you work with do not always “thank you” at the end of each day or mission. But that doesn’t mean that they do not appreciate your work! Sometimes this gesture is simply forgotten in the many tasks they have to think of and the many other things they need to take care of.

Be brave and try to change things!
It can happen that as a volunteer you feel that your assignment (or an aspect of your work) is not the best way to help. This is often the case when working on tasks repeatedly without actually solving the problem. This can be frustrating and may prevent you from accepting long-term volunteering projects. But: Maybe you have an idea for how to solve a problem sustainably instead of just scratching its surface? Just share this idea with your team! Or how about starting a social project yourself to change the issue you’ve noticed?

What do I have to consider for certain projects and target groups and what can I or can I not expect?

Each project and each target group usually has its own or special requirements. To give you an overview of these, in collaboration with the organizations that work with us, we have summarized some target group specific tips.


PROJECTS WITH CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS

General
Children need more time to get used to and build trust with people. For children, it is therefore of particular importance to commit for the long term. In addition, working with children and adolescents requires openness, flexibility and the willingness to engage with children and their needs. Daliah Düring, a member of our partner organization Gelbe Villa, said: “When engaging with children at eye level and taking their wishes and thoughts seriously while being clear and consistent at the same time, you can help improve their self-confidence and impact their future development. And even as an adult, it is enriching to learn from children and to grow yourself. ”

Formalities
When working with children and teenagers, you almost always need to present an extended police certificate of good conduct. Do not worry, this is ticked off your to-do list quickly and free of charge for volunteers. We are happy to assist you with the application. All information can be found in our FAQ (under “Certificate of Good Conduct and Health Certificate”).

Anything else?
Please be aware that for some projects you work for but not with children. This applies for instance when supporting projects such as adventure playgrounds and children’s or youth clubs where you might have little or no contact with children. A reason for this can be that the presence of many adults would actually disturb the children playing. So don’t be disappointed if you do not always come into direct contact with children.


PROJECTS WITH SENIORS

General
If you want to volunteer with senior citizens, according to Cathrin Redlin, Head of Social Services at Caritas Nursing Home St. Josefsheim you should be prepared to “meet older people with very different and individual backgrounds, some of whom have lived through terrible experiences (war, hunger, death of children and spouses, …). It is important to be open and empathic with them, to be patient and to listen to them, or sometimes to simply be there and maybe even grieve with them. ”

Most residents in nursing homes, explains Cathrin Redlin, “are very old and often suffer from various illnesses. Some of them are already very sick, they are bedridden and in some cases hardly responsive. It is important to pay particular attention to that person. Does he/she want you to read a story? What are their expressions like – do they seem relaxed or tense, do they enjoy being touched? If you are insecure, you can always speak to someone from the nursing and care staff. This is important when you are not at ease. Most residents are happy to talk and to do activities (such as going on walks as there is usually little time left in the nursing and care routine). This is your moment to be creative and to come up with ideas yourself.”

Formalities
There are no formal requirements when working with senior citizens.


PROJECTS WITH PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY AND / OR PSYCHICALLY DISABLED PEOPLE

General
Working with disabled people requires empathy and a very attentive approach with regard to them and to yourself. People with intellectual and/or mental disabilities do not always respond in a way you would expect or are used to. In addition, their stories can touch you closely. Nicole Katschewitz, volunteer coordinator of the nursing home House of Life, gives the following advice to volunteers: “Be honest to yourself and pay attention to how much closeness and distance you can accept. If you need distance, then keep it. If both of you are okay, you can also hug.“ As a general rule, the assignment should be fun, and good for you and the people you work with! If a situation overwhelms you emotionally or physically, please contact the responsible staff member immediately for advice.

Formal
Short-term volunteering has no formal requirements. If you take on permanent volunteering work, an extended certificate of good conduct must be applied for (all information can be found in our FAQ “Certificate of Good Conduct and Health Certificate“).


PROJECTS WITH REFUGEES

General
Working with refugees – like any work with people – requires openness and commitment. Especially some projects, like mentoring, require a particular level of trust between the volunteers and refugees. As this takes time to develop, you should be willing to take on long(er) term commitments. For other projects and activities, such as sorting clothes, you can volunteer on short notice. However, you will also come in less direct contact with refugees.

The IQ Netzwerk Baden-Württemberg has created a very helpful video describing the causes of disappointment and irritation when working with refugees. Their summary: An exchange at eye level between helpers and refugees is hardly possible. But to create at least a “common ground”, helpers must accept the individuality of refugees and their right to self-determination. They should also ask questions and wait for their answers instead of answering them in advance.

Formalities
There are no additional formal requirements when working with and for refugees.

Anything else?

We advice you to inform yourself about the situation refugees are in and to reflect your own position as a helper. You should be open-minded for other cultures and perspectives. And finally you should be a good listener.


PROJECTS WITH THE HOMELESS

General
When working with the homeless, you will meet people with many different backgrounds. As the “typical“ homeless does not exist, there is no such thing as a “standard“ approach. Sabrina Ingerl from Berliner Obdachlosenhilfe has the following tips: “The most important thing when dealing with homeless people is that you behave naturally towards them. Excessive pity or exaggerated friendliness are rather inappropriate. Just engage in a normal conversation. Sometimes people move to you closely in conversations or want to touch you. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, simply take a step backwards or point it out to the person nicely.

If you get into direct contact with people, which is not a problem as such, you should still be aware of a certain risk of infection for diseases such as scabies or tuberculosis. So it is best to disinfect your hands or wear gloves.

Often, people who live on the street have a rather rough behavior that you might not be used to. Insults and lack of gratitude can happen. But do not let this upset you and do not take it personally. However, you can let the respective person know if you do not find their behavior acceptable. If there is an argument, you can first try to de-escalate the situation by talking well or distracting from the situation. Mostly those arguing will calm down themselves again. If it comes to fights, do not intervene but step aside. However, these situations hardly ever occur. Above all, you will have very interesting and sometimes extremely deep conversations when working with homeless people. An experience that nobody wants to miss anymore. ”

Formal
There are no formal requirements when working with homeless people.


PROJECTS WITH ANIMALS

General
All assignments with animals are in particular demand on vostel.de. Many volunteers imagine that they can cuddle with their two- and four-legged friends all day long. In fact, it is not always possible to get in contact with animals directly as this would require zookeeper training for example. The reason for this is that traumatized animals with special needs for treatment often live in animal shelters and animal care units. So even if you have a dog yourself, it might not be enough to be able to evaluate the behavior of the dogs in the shelter properly. However, animal care centers often need your help elsewhere, for example on-site support or when cleaning stables. This way you can make sure that qualified specialists can devote more attention to the care of their animals. And don’t worry, there is usually some time to cuddle a little 🙂

Formal
Animal work often requires special training (see General).

What else?
Please read the project descriptions carefully to inform yourself about the requirements and the exact activity to avoid disappointment if you do not come into direct contact with the animals.