Over the years voluntourism has garnered a lot of controversial press, leading many to question the ethics of the practice. There are a variety of reasons as to why voluntourism is actually more damaging than helpful to the communities people choose to work in, even if they have their best interests at heart.
What is Voluntourism?
Voluntourism is where people merge their travels with volunteering. This can be done in a few ways, you can either volunteer in a community in exchange for free accommodation and food, or you donate a certain amount of money, which is then donated to the community where you volunteer.
The Dangers of Voluntourism
Although voluntourism is always done with people’s best intentions, many people partake in volunteering activities without researching the role fully and therefore can damage communities more than helping them.
You might be wondering how volunteering can be so damaging? Depending on the type of volunteering that is being undertaken, there might be an array of issues created in that community when the volunteers come to leave. Below are some of the risks in different types of voluntourism.
Working with children
You might have a good grasp of the English language, but how much can you really teach young children in a rural community? It takes people over a year to become qualified teachers, even longer when training to teach vulnerable children abroad.
It should not be a ‘learning experience’ for you or just something to put on your CV. To educate children and work closely with them, you must have specifically trained for this purpose.
Furthermore, many people only stay for a short amount of time in these communities, so can only commit to small projects or end up ‘just being a friend’ to the children. However, this causes abandonment issues with the children and doesn’t address the root causes of suffering, therefore only provides a superficial experience to both the volunteers and children.
Working with animals
Working with animals has become increasingly popular due to the effects of climate change on their environments. Many volunteers want to help animals to aid conservation, eager to mend helpless monkeys, and dress the wounds of elephants. But this isn’t real, effective conservation.
Yes, helping an individual animal will make you feel good, but conservation is a brutal task. You are mostly carrying out less than desirable tasks for the greater good. Conservation often entails exterminating invasive species, which is not a task many volunteers want to undertake.
The animal sanctuaries you see advertised on conservation sites have often purposely targeted the ‘voluntourism’ demographic, using their free labor and donations to keep looking after a small group of species, without ever addressing the root cause of their endangerment. It only requires a few minutes of research to find some truly exceptional sanctuaries that actually help the animals live and thrive in their habitat.
Do You Have the Skill to Offer?
You might have good intentions when it comes to volunteering abroad, but can you really help all that much? Many voluntourists simply don’t have the proper skills or professional experience to actually improve a community abroad.
Another reason for avoiding voluntourism is, do these communities actually need your help?
Many ‘poorer’ communities are often living happy, sustainable lives and don’t need people from other countries coming over and telling them how to live. Maybe focus your good intentions on your own local community if you’d like to lend a hand to people in need.
How to Volunteer Ethically Abroad
It’s recommended you ask your chosen charity or non-profit organization for a breakdown of where your money will go. Any self-respecting organization will be happy to show you their accounts for complete transparency and it should be a red flag if they won’t. At least 80% of its profits should be going back to the community, any lower than this and the organization is simply exploiting not only you as the volunteer, but the community as well for profits.
You should also ask what tasks the previous volunteers did, to see if their efforts made a positive difference in the community, or if they left whilst the project was half-finished or with loads of problems.
Although some voluntourism can be damaging, there are ways you can lend a hand to communities in need without it being detrimental to the community. There are a few things to keep in mind when you begin planning your trip to volunteer abroad, including:
➢ Research extensively before booking any travel. You cannot do enough research!
➢ Choose a cause you’re passionate about and you have the skills for.
➢ Choose a charity that partners and trains local workers, instead of taking jobs away from them.
➢ Choose charities that focus on creating sustainable processes.
➢ Ensure you’re doing this for the right reasons! If you’re looking to lend long-term, real help to a community or environment/species you’re passionate about then great! If you’re looking for an extra experience to use for your job hunt or for your own gratification, then it might not be the right choice for you.
BookitList provides an online platform so you can socialize with other travelers and document your own travels. If you need information on volunteering or any other type of travel, the team will be happy to help.