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Frequently Asked Questions 

 

1. Who are the volunteers?

Volunteers are people who work for free in social and ecological programs around the world.

 Volunteers are not only pure altruists; working as a volunteer also allows you to gain experience, specific skills and knowledge, as well as expand your social network. In many organizations, people start their careers as volunteers. Often, a volunteer internship opens the door to the world of paid jobs, because offers the opportunity to demonstrate and improve your skills. Former volunteers sometimes even go on to establish their own organizations or implement their own projects based on the experiences and ideas they gained during internships.

Furthermore, for non-profit and non-governmental organizations, volunteers constitute an important labor base, and make it possible for these organizations to achieve their social and ecological goals.

GBT is always happy to welcome you as a volunteer, and we will always find work for you that is tailored to your individual knowledge and skill set.

 Our organization almost exclusively depends on the work of volunteers. We therefore offer many different volunteer opportunities. We highly appreciate the activities of our volunteers and are very grateful to all of them for their hard work and dedication.

Main Areas of Volunteer Activity within GBT include:

  • Working at the summer project camps (trail building and reconstruction, construction of small bridges, resting places and other necessary infrastructure, gathering of garbage, etc.);

  • Helping in the office (recruit new volunteers for the summer work camps, social networking, activities with the weekly GBT club, participating in social projects within Irkutsk, gathering information, translation, etc.)

  • Participating in educational programs (teaching in schools, elaborating upon and conducting GBT seminars, participating in exhibitions and conferences, etc.)

  • Participating in other projects (tree planting, gathering garbage, etc.)

 2. Why do volunteers have to pay so that they can work?

Some international volunteer organizations are able to offer their volunteers free accommodation and food supply, sometimes even a financial contribution to cover their travel expenses. This is only possible when the organization can rely on financial support or grants from governmental institutions or private businesses. Unfortunately, non-profit and non-governmental organizations in Russia do not enjoy such favorable conditions. GBT does not receive grants or financial support to cover expenses for volunteers’ accommodation, catering and administration. The grants GBT receives are dedicated to buying tools and equipment, and cannot be extended to support the summer work camps. Therefore, it is not possible for us to offer the work camps for free, unfortunately. The fees volunteers pay in order to participate in the GBT projects are solely used to cover the expenses and do not result in any profit for GBT.  

3. Why are we building the Great Baikal Trail?

We want to create an infrastructure for ecological tourism around Lake Baikal and offer an alternative to industrial development in this pristine part of Siberia.  We also strive to spread environmental education in the region and in general.

4. What do volunteers do on Great Baikal Trail (GBT) projects?

Summer  projects:

GBT projects involve physical work, mostly outdoors and in remote areas of Siberia. . Most projects are two weeks long, but there are opportunities to work for half a project or a project-and-a-half.  We can arrange these options for you. Volunteers not only help build the trail itself, but also help build facilities (picnic tables, toilets, etc.), help restore cultural sites, or develop material for environmental education along the trail. In some cases, you will be working in areas accessible by road, but sometimes you will be as far from civilization as one can be.

Winter projects:

GBT also conducts projects in March in different parts of Lake Baikal. This is the time of year when we have “warm” winter in Siberia. Volunteers come for 10 – 12 days and do social work in small towns and villages. Together with local children they burn trail signs, make ice sculptures, talk about volunteerism and etc.  Participants stay in host families most of the time and learn about Russian traditional living from their hosts. 

5. Who lives along the shores of Baikal?

While volunteering, you will interact with local people on Lake Baikal, who have lived there for centuries.  Some of them are indigenous people, such as Buryats and Evenks, whose history goes back to the time of Genghis Khan.

6. Is this really for me?

The Great Baikal Trail projects are for those who like to be active while on vacation. We try to mix a certain number of hours of work with opportunities for volunteers to enjoy the local environment and culture. Volunteers are expected to be flexible and willing to embrace the adventures of living in nature.  We are not giving you a tour package for a holiday vacation at Baikal. We are inviting you to join our family in “building” a sustainable trail system here in Siberia. Working with people from different nationalities and backgrounds can be a lot of fun. You will meet new people, make new friends, learn new skills, and make a difference in our world----all in two weeks. 

7. Do I need any special skills?

No. Our crew leaders are specially trained in volunteer management, and will teach you all the skills you need to have.   Each volunteer can bring their own special skills to the trail, however.

8. Do I need to know any other languages?

The official languages for GBT projects are Russian and English. It’s necessary to speak one or another to have fun and be safe on the trail.

9. I have certain health concerns; can I still join an expedition?

There are projects with different levels of difficulty. We have heavy duty hiking projects that are not advised if you might have special health concerns. Contact us and we will do our best to find a suitable project for you.

10. Can you accommodate special diets?

All projects can cater to most dietary needs (such as vegetarianism). When working in remote areas, our menu will be pretty much fixed and somewhat limited, special food delivery becomes a problem at times. Please therefore consult with us about your dietary preferences prior to arrival.

11. Am I too old or too young to participate?

Volunteers must be at least 18 years of age. If you are between 14 and 18, you are welcome to join with your parents or as part of a special group.  There is also a waiver form that can be signed by your parents if you are under 18 and would like to volunteer with GBT on your own.  Special note to parents and minors: It is important to realize that because the GBT projects are designed for adults, there is no special supervision of unaccompanied minors on the side of GBT; they are expected to participate and behave as adults.

In 2008 we conducted our first family project! You are very welcome to come with children ages 1-10 this year!

There is no upper limit! We have had volunteers over 65 who enjoyed our projects tremendously.  Just be realistic about your health and fitness and call us for advice.

12. Who else will be on my team?

The GBT Association is a growing organization. In 2003 we had 150 volunteers, in 2004 – over 350, in 2005 – 600, in 2006 – 402, 2007 – 458 and 2008 - 427.  We plan it so that about half of our volunteers on each team are international and the other half are Russian.  Many volunteers come back summer after summer. Volunteers are diverse in age and life experience! For whatever reason, we usually end up with about 60% female and 40% male participants. Most GBT alumni still keep in touch and become friends for life.

13. What size are the crews?

Team size is usually between 10 and 16 people, with an additional crew leader, assistant crew leader and interpreter.

14. How do volunteers get to Baikal?  Do most of them travel alone to get there?

Volunteers are asked to make travel arrangements themselves to get to the specially designated meeting sites on Baikal, in the cities where we have offices and coordinators such as Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude and Severobaikalsk.  From there, the group will travel together to the starting point of the project.  We can make special arrangements to pick you up at the airport or train station upon arrival in one of the main cities at Baikal, if requested. Many volunteers come by themselves.  However, we can also try to help you find others who are coming out at the same time, to give you the chance to travel together and make new friends before the work starts.  However, remember that, once you start work on the trail, you are pretty much “stuck” with each other for 2 weeks!

15. What kind of accommodations will there be?

GBT projects are service tourism projects. You will live in tents in the midst of nature, often sharing a tent with another person in your team. One tent for two will be provided by our organization, but you should bring your own sleeping bag and sleeping pad. On some projects, lodging in homestays or base stations may be available.

16. What else can I expect in the way of field conditions?

You will work 5 days a week, 6 hours a day on the trail, when it is dry. When weather does not allow for outdoor activity, we have plenty of trail interpretation work (creating signs and informational kiosks) and entertaining discussions and activities for you to do in a dry place.  Each project has its own schedule. Usually, volunteers get up about 8 am, prepare and have breakfast by 9, start work at 10 am, have lunch at 2pm and siesta till 4pm, and then work for three more hours until 7pm. After that, we have free time, during which volunteers take a swim, go for a walk, read a book, or relax with new friends. Dinner is normally at 7:30 pm, followed by a crew meeting for everyone, with a discussion of the day.  Then there are special evening get-togethers, where we sing and play guitar (Russians love guitars), play games, and learn about each other and our cultures.

Over the weekend, you might (depending on the project) have the chance to go to a Russian banya (wet sauna), meet with interesting people in nearby villages, go hiking, visit nearby hot springs, get a tan on a local beach, or do whatever else happens to be available at your site. All the optional activities will be listed in each project’s description.

There are no showers and no hot water at the campsite (unless you boil the water yourself)!

Teams will cook for themselves – this will give everyone the chance to share a favorite recipe (for which you might want to bring you own special ingredients, if you can).

17. What do I need to bring?

Once you signed up to volunteer with us, we’ll send you a full list of everything that you will need to bring. In general, most of projects require tough pants, t-shirts, some warm, waterproof clothes for rainy weather, and good boots.

18. Where are most of the GBT projects’ sites?

GBT teams work at the most breathtaking place in Siberia – in the Lake Baikal basin. We work in national nature reserves, forest service and tribal lands, in national parks, and in other historic areas. This is the land of brown bears and the unique Baikal freshwater seal. Landscapes will vary from high steppe to mountain slopes, from tundra-lands to the shoreline of the Lake, and from taiga forest to alpine meadows.

19. What kind of food will we be eating?

We buy food in advance and bring it to the camp. Within the team you decide the cooking schedule, who cooks, and who washes. Everyone has a hot meal three times a day, which Russians believe is necessary for physical work. We also have a lot of tea drinking at night around the campfire. During work time, there will be snack breaks with tea, water, and snacks. You will have the chance to try wild berries, pine nuts, and mushrooms picked from nature. Ours is a simple but nourishing camp food - we will not be able to provide restaurant-level Russian cuisine in the field. We request you not to drink alcohol during the work week. Some projects require stricter alcohol policies, due to the presence of children.

20. What about other local customs?

Local people are warm-hearted and open to telling you about their customs and traditions. You will have the benefit of working and living with the very Siberians who can explain and discuss local customs with you.

21. Will I have time to take photographs?

Sure! Take as many as you want! If you are taking pictures of people, always ask permission to do so. Share some pictures with us, sign them on the back, and, with your permission, we will share them with others who are interested in our projects!

22. Can I stay longer or leave early?

We ask that each participant stay for the entire 2 week period, once each project has started.  There are some projects with easy access where you can come or leave earlier hence, others are in the wilderness. If you are positive about spending less time on a project, please, contact our volunteer coordinator and consult with her. However, after each project’s completion, many volunteers choose to remain in Russia longer.  We can assist you in planning out these longer stays, and encourage international volunteers to see more of our country - it’s so big, and there is so much to see!

23. What about visas?

To travel to Russia, you will need a visa.  We can help by issuing you a special invitation, which is required by Russian embassies when applying for your visa.  When you arrive at the meeting point, we will help you register your visa with local agencies (also required by Russian law).  Please be aware that this registration takes a day, and will require that you give us your passport (or its copy), migration card and a visa to be registered.  See (visa support) for more information. We can provide you with a 30 or 90 day visa.

24. How do I join a GBT team?

From the list of project descriptions, you can choose the project that suits your interests and your schedule.  We ask you to cover your expenses during the project by contributing 10900 rubles (which is approximately $420 US or 320 EURO; please check with the current exchange rate: http://www.cbr.ru/eng/currency_base/daily.asp.  The exact sum depends on the project.  This fee covers all food, tents, tools, training at the site, translation, and activities on days off.  You can give us your contribution in person when you arrive at one of our offices, or you can transfer money to our bank account.  Please contact Yulya Misevich at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

25. What other expenses will I have to pay?

Each participant is asked to pay for his/her own travel (including visa costs) to the project site (please, see the list of project sites for exact costs).

27. How can I get more information?

Fill out an application and send it to us. Have contact to us – This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

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