1. Who are our volunteers?
In general, volunteers are people from around the world who work for free on social and ecological programs. To our understanding, if you are a volunteer, you are not only a pure altruist, but 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 often start their careers as volunteers. Often a volunteer internship opens the door to the world of paid jobs, because it offers an opportunity to demonstrate (and improve) your skills. Former volunteers sometimes even go on to establish their own organizations, or implement projects based on the experiences and ideas that they have gained during their 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 that is tailored to your individual temperament and skill set.
Our organization almost exclusively depends on the work of volunteers. We therefore offer many different volunteer opportunities. We highly appreciate the accomplishments of our volunteers, and are very grateful to all of you for your hard work and dedication.
The main areas of volunteer activity within GBT include:
• Working at the summer project camps (e.g., doing trail construction and maintenance; building small bridges, campsites, and other necessary infrastructures; and gathering trash left behind by others, etc)
• Helping in the office (e.g., helping with the recruitment of new volunteers for the summer work camps, social networking, gathering/translating information, helping with activities that are part of our weekly GBT club meetings, or otherwise participating in social projects within our Irkutsk region, etc)
• Participating in environmental and educational programs (e.g., teaching in schools, organizing and conducting GBT seminars, participating in exhibitions and conferences, etc)
• Participating in other projects (e.g., tree planting, beach cleanups and other trash collection, etc)
2. Why do our volunteers have to pay so that they can work?
Unfortunately, GBT does not receive any grants or any other forms of financial support to cover the expenses of the volunteers’ accommodations, meals, or other administrative costs. The grants that GBT does receive are used to buy tools and trail building equipment. Therefore, it is not possible for us to offer the work camps for free. The fees volunteers pay in order to participate in the GBT projects are solely used to cover project 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, which can then offer up an alternative to industrial development in this pristine part of Siberia.
4. What do volunteers do on our Great Baikal Trail projects?
Our GBT summer projects involve physical work that is mostly outdoors and in some very remote areas of Siberia. Volunteers not only help build the trails themselves, but also help maintain trail side facilities (picnic tables, restrooms, etc.). We also help restore cultural sites, and develop materials for interpretive education along the trail.
5. Who lives along the shores of Baikal?
While volunteering, you may interact with local people who live on the shores of Lake Baikal and whose families have lived there for centuries. Some of them are indigenous people, such as Buryats and Evenks, whose history goes all the way back to the time of Genghis Khan and beyond.
6. Is this really for me?
Our projects are for those who like to be active while on vacation and enjoy the local environment and culture. You will be working with people from different nationalities and backgrounds and you are expected to be flexible and willing to face the possible challenges of living in the great outdoors. A summer project is not a holiday tour package at Lake Baikal, but you will meet new people, make new friends, learn new skills, and make a real difference in our world - and all in two weeks.
7. Do I need any special skills?
No, previous experience is not required. Our crew leaders are trained in volunteer management, and will teach you all the skills you will need.
8. Do I need to know any other languages?
The official languages for our projects are Russian and English. It’s necessary to speak one or the other to participate in one of our projects.
9. I have certain health concerns; can I still join a trail building expedition?
There are projects with different levels of difficulty. We have heavy-duty hiking projects that are not advised if you have special health concerns. Please 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 some dietary needs (such as vegetarian). When working in remote areas, our menu will be pretty much fixed and limited. Therefore, please consult our sample menu and inform us with dietary preferences or allergies before applying.
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 come with your parents or as part of a special group. There is also a waiver that can be signed by your parents if you would like to volunteer on your own. The official upper age limit is 60; however if you are older and feel that you capable to participate in our camps, then do contact us.
Special Note: Our projects are designed for adults, and minors are expected to participate and behave as adults.
12. Who else will be on my team?
Crews are fairly equal in the number of international and Russian participants. It all depends on who applies for each particular project. There may be volunteers participating to a project for the first time or volunteers who have previous experience. Volunteers are diverse in age and life experience! We usually end up with more female than male participants.
13. What size are the crews?
Team size is usually between 10 and 18 people, plus a crew leader, assistant crew leader, and interpreter.
14. How do volunteers get to Baikal? Do most of them travel alone to get here?
Volunteers are asked to make their own travel arrangements to get to the designated meeting point on Lake Baikal. The meeting site will be announced about a month before the start of the project. From there, the group will travel together to project site. We can make special arrangements to pick you up at the airport or train station upon your arrival in one of the main cities near Lake 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 as you to give you the chance to travel together and meet up before the actual work begins.
15. What kind of accommodations will there be?
You will live in tents—often sharing a tent with another participant. Two person tents will be provided, but you should bring your own sleeping bag and sleeping pad. On some projects, there may be lodging in homestays, cabins, or base stations.
16. What else can I expect in the way of field conditions?
When it is dry you will work 5 days a week, 6 hours a day on the trail. When weather does not allow for outdoor activity, we have plenty of trail interpretation work to do (creating signs and informational displays), as well as many entertaining discussions and activities that will keep you 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 a siesta till 4pm. They 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 (please note, Russians love guitars and singing), 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 (a wet sauna), meet with interesting people in nearby villages, or go hiking, You might also 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 nor hot water at each campsite (unless you boil the water yourself over a campfire)!
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 clothes do I need bring?
Once you have 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 work clothes, some warm clothes, waterproof layers, and sturdy boots. It is good to have clothes that dry quickly.
18. Where most of the GBT project sites are located?
Our projects take place Lake Baikal region. Projects are often in Pribaikalsky and Zabaikalsky National Parks, Baikalsky and Baikalo-Lensky Nature Reserves, as well as other protected area. Landscapes will vary from high steppe to mountain slopes, from tundra to the very shores 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 crew, you will decide the cooking schedule, and who will cook and who will wash. Everyone has a hot meal three times a day, which Russians believe is necessary for physical work. During work time, there will be breaks with tea, water, and snacks. Please refer to the sample menu.
We request that you not 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 very open to telling you about their customs and traditions. You will have the benefit of working and living with many Siberians who can explain and discuss local customs with you.
21. Will I have time to take photographs?
Yes. If you are taking pictures of people, always ask permission to do so. You’re more than welcome to share your photos with us and we can share them on our websites!
22. Can I stay longer or leave early?
We ask that each participant stay for the entire project. Special cases can be reviewed if you need to leave early. To stay longer you’re welcome to join another project!
23. What about visas?
To travel to Russia, you will need a visa. Thanks to our partners you can obtain an official letter of invitation within 1-3 days, which will allow you to apply for a tourist visa (duration of stay: 30 days) at your local Russian consulate. The cost of processing and officially registering this invitation is included in our project fees.
When you arrive in Russia, you need to register your visa within 7 days at a hostel or hotel you stay at. Please make sure you have this document before the project starts (the registration usually takes a day; the documents required are your passport, migration card and visa).
24. How do I participate in a project?
From the list of project descriptions, you can choose the project that best suits your interests and your schedule and fill out an application form.
25. What expenses will I have to pay?
The project fee 25000-28500 Rubles depends on the project (please check the current exchange rate at: http://www.cbr.ru/eng/currency_base/daily.asp). This fee covers a local transportation, food, tents, tools, training at the site, translation. You pay in person and in cash when you arrive.
Each participant is asked to pay for their own travel costs to the project site as well as visa. (Please, see the list of project sites for exact costs of full travel to each site).
27. How can I get more information?
You can fill out an application and send it to us, or connect with us directly at – email@example.com