You may have questions such as "What is voluntourism?" "Why do I have to pay to volunteer?" or "How do I know I'm making a difference?"
These are very common questions, and we'll address those below, as well as questions you need to ask yourself before participating in a volunteer program or a voluntour trip.
What is Voluntourism?
Volunteering is the act of working towards a common goal or cause, without payment for time and services. Volunteering projects are as diverse as there are needs to fill. There are countless opportunities to share, learn, pay forward, pay back, and enrich communities both locally and abroad.
Voluntourism blends volunteering efforts with traveling abroad, and as long as people have traveled, they have helped along their way. In many cases, people are combining volunteering projects with personal traveling before, or afterwards. The result is a very deep look at a very different culture.
There are amazing benefits for those interested in volunteering overseas. Not only is there a sense of fulfilment, which may be hard to explain to those that haven’t gone yet, but there is a deeper cultural connection. It comes from learning. It comes from meeting new people, sharing challenges, and knocking down the walls of prejudice and stereotypes.
A quick look at the benefits are as follows:
- Improve local communities and/or biological environments
- Help others in need
- Share your skills and experiences
- Learn new skills and experiences
- Solve problems and overcome challenges
- Fulfill your sense of self
- Meet new people, and make lifelong friends
- Improve your resume/CV
- Become a global citizen
- Spread happiness and caring
Through volunteering, you will build a cultural bond, a mark that remains when you leave, and a mark that you bring home with you. In giving of yourself, you will enact change, and, when responsible choices are made, can make this world a better place.
What to Ask and Why
When one chooses to go abroad and volunteer, or to teach, or to learn new skills, they are faced with important decisions. Some of these decisions are easier than others, but the RIGHT answers will vary from person to person. Some people look for opportunities that balance more contemporary comforts within their experiences, while others look for more culturally representative options, which can be hosted in more challenging and/or intimate environments. Either way, there are only 2 pillars of decision-making, and they are based on how an organisation’s philosophical and operational standards match with your own personal needs and interests.
The first item of thought must address what is driving you towards traveling with this purpose. Is this to grow your skill set? or to give back and address an issue? is it to increase social awareness? or is this simply a ‘good’ holiday alternative? Ask yourself this core question first. It will help in steering your course. Remember, there are no wrong answers, but there are certainly better choices.
GoVoluntouring does our best to connect people with as many quality choices as we can, but as the user and final decision maker, you must find your own ‘perfect’ match, based on your own criteria, and your own behind-the-scenes research. If there is one thing I have learned with my 13 years in tourism, is that travellers are amazing bloggers, they hold back no punches, and they share their experiences openly. Be sure to include independent blogs in your homework.
The philosophical questions must align with your personal belief system. Don’t be afraid to speak to an organisation and stress the ‘intangibles’ that are important to you. You may ask yourself, does this decision support my religious, faith or moral compass? Does this organisation have the best interests of its local community and stakeholders at heart? If you are paying money, ask where the money goes; if you are being paid, ask where the money comes from. More importantly, you need to answer what will be your legacy, and what will you have supported, enabled, or empowered in the process?
The operational decisions must address health, wellness and organisational deliverables. You need to ask about contingency plans, proximity to medical centres, local crime rates, vaccination needs, travel restrictions, and cultural norms (such as dress, food, nightlife, and alcohol). Wearing bikini tops outside of the beach can be both insulting, and dangerous in some places - that's the real world. It's not good, it's not bad, it's just different.
You will also need to ask what you need to do before you leave home (some vaccinations need to be administered weeks/months in advance), and what timeframe does this need to happen in? What do I need to pack? What happens when you arrive at the airport, and what happens if there is an emergency? Who is my support network, and where can I find them, what should I expect?
On that note, you may find the following checklist from Australia’s Monash University to be very helpful as well.
- Does the operator provide a breakdown of how any fees will be spent?
- Does the operator have the support of either the local government, your government, United Nations, or are they a Certified B-Corp?
- Does the operator provide a history of their activities and time spent working in the location?
- Have the locals been adequately consulted? Is it what they really need/want?
- Does the project replace local jobs with expensive overseas voluntourists?
- Will the project be sustainable by local people after voluntourists leave?
- Does the operator evaluate their work to ensure it continually meets the needs of locals?
- Does the program allow you to use your particular skills and experience effectively?
- Have I done adequate background research on the operator before committing?
- Will I be making a difference through altruistic volunteering and not just being a tourist?
- Have I identified the relevant visa, safety (including living conditions) and insurance requirements?
- Can I leave the program if I needed to?
Use these questions as starting points only, and make sure you address the 2 pillars of decision-making. It is right to have expectations, and you need to use early questioning in forming them.
Remember, if it doesn’t feel right, then please don’t proceed.
Good luck. Travel safe. Be responsible.