“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything.” – Albert Einstein
What is Voluntourism?
Voluntourism is a way of combining travel with volunteering your time, to help make a difference to a local community. Discover more about a place than just passing through as you get to live and work with local people who really need your help. Volunteer placements generally last from one week to a few months and are a way of gaining a better understanding of the country and its people through an exchange of cultures.
Voluntourism is extremely rewarding and can benefit the community if done in a sustainable manner through giving locals the tools and knowledge to move forward in the future. Not only does it offer the chance to learn new skills, you can also make new friends and form bonds that will last a lifetime.
Before giving any gifts always check with the person in charge to prevent doing more harm than good.
Types of Volunteering Abroad
There are many volunteering organisations which offer all types of volunteering work. Some placements aren’t cheap and you have to pay for your airfare so combining it with travel helps to reduce your costs. After the initial placement you usually have the chance to extend your stay at a cheaper weekly rate.
You can work with elephants on a conservation project, become a youth worker at a womens’ empowerment group or attend a local hospital on a medical placement. You don’t have to be a certain age or have a specific skill to volunteer either; you could paint a school or collect turtle eggs ready for hatching, immersing yourself within the local environment and community who are just as curious about you as you are about them. If you're still unsure about the whole volunteering experience, read this volunteer's first-hand account of volunteering with children in Peru.
Rethinking Volunteer Travel
Instead of thinking that you are helping a country, ask yourself what you can learn from the country, changing the perception of “volunteering” to “learning service.”
The following is taken with permission from the book Learning Service: The Essential Guide To Volunteering Abroad:
“Learning service starts with looking inwards. In fact, we believe that self-awareness is the single most important quality someone must possess in order to successfully learn about and contribute to the world.
Taking the time to build your own self-awareness might seem like a waste of time when there are real needs in the world that demand immediate action. But when you know yourself well, you will be able to make better decisions about whether or not volunteering overseas is right for you, and, if you do volunteer, what type of role you would be best suited for. By understanding your own motivations and capacity, and critically exploring your assumptions, you will be:
- More open to the new cultures in which you find yourself
- More likely to reflect critically on your actions and improve them, or to change course completely should you realise you are on the wrong path
- A more effective volunteer, who is less likely to make harmful mistakes
- Much better positioned to make a positive contribution to the world—both during and after your volunteer trip.
The process of building self-awareness starts with a learning mindset. With a learning mindset, you see every task, difficulty, and encounter as a learning opportunity. You are willing to challenge your own assumptions and stereotypes, and you are committed to being open to new ideas and ways of doing things. Embracing a learning mindset is a cornerstone of learning service.
Ask “why, why, why”
Asking why can help you to probe the reality of a belief, assumption, or inference and to understand how the root causes of issues are interlinked. For example, if you see children living in an orphanage, you might ask yourself, “Why are they living here?” You might find out that some of the children are not orphans, so the next question could be, “Why did their parents decide to leave them here?” and then “Why did the parents think their children would be better off in an orphanage?” As you peel back the reasons parents might have left them there, and consider the political, social, economic, and cultural factors that influenced them, your ‘whys’ will lead you closer to the root causes of the situation. You will begin to uncover areas where you need to learn more in order to answer the question or to test your own assumptions about ‘why’ something happens.
Understanding the root cause of the problem can help you to see that a problem may not be so black and white.
Root causes of social problems are often extremely complex and multi-layered. For example, the root cause of a high child mortality rate may be a combination of inadequate education for parents, lack of access to healthcare, prevalence of preventable diseases, and food scarcity. A project that is addressing the root cause tries to create a sustainable solution for one or more of the problems. By contrast, a one-off health camp with western doctors and donated fancy equipment, may look impressive, but will have little long-term impact if it is not addressing the root causes.”
Always choose a reputable volunteering company as children are known to be placed in certain orphanages to gain money from volunteers. Read more…
A good volunteering company should give you a breakdown of where your money is going.
Learning Service is the essential guide to volunteering abroad. This book focuses on how we can learn from volunteering instead of trying to solely help. It will change the way that you think about volunteering and gives stories from others. It's also a thoughtful critique of the sinister side of volunteer travel; a guide for turning good intentions into effective results; and essential advice on how to make the most of your experience.
Best Volunteer Abroad Programs
If you do decide to volunteer and challenge your assumptions of a country, below are some recommended volunteering agencies to choose: