More and more, travelers are combining their desire for adventure with their desire to help. However, many organizations have taken advantage of that by offering expensive voluntourism packages that fall well short of their promise.
For a price, you can now save orangutans in Southeast Asia, teach children in the Amazon or build homes in Africa, no qualifications necessary. While these are indisputably admirable thoughts, hoards of well-meaning but ill-informed travellers often spend precious time and money, while making very little difference.
We at GGG are proponents for volunteering, but don’t believe you should have to pay thousands of dollars to a third-party company to give your time and energy. That’s why all of our guidebooks have free or low-cost volunteer opportunities.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it like that. Voluntourism is an exploding industry catering to everyone from wide eyed high school students to professionals to retirees, there is an unlimited market and unlimited options. It is little wonder that there are literally hundreds of companies now willing to arrange your volunteering holiday for you.
Voluntourism has sometimes been called the new colonialism for its exploitation of dire situations in third world countries.That being said, not all voluntourism is bad, but finding a program that has integrity, offers results and is considerate to its community takes considerable commitment and legwork.
If you are determined to volunteer abroad with an organization, be sure to examine where your money is going to– reputable agencies will publish the allocation of resources. Here are some other tips to keep in mind if you’re looking to volunteer.
- Examine the communities you’ll be living in. Think through the possible repercussions of your presence. Hunt down reviews from past volunteers, deliberately looking for bad ones – organizations are often good at hiding negative press.
- If you’re attracted by a particular cause or country, call and e-mail to see if there are any foundations that accept volunteers without the middleman – often, with patience and good planning, you can find yourself accommodation and pay basic living expenses while volunteering for the same or less than what you pay an agency.
- Check out a Go! Girl guidebook for free volunteer information in Thailand, Mexico or Argentina.
While we should all encourage a global outlook and a desire to help, we should also be very careful about how we do it.
For more info on voluntourism, check out Volunteer Forever, which offers a platform for raising money for your trips as well as program reviews. Dorinda Elliot, a writer for Conde Nast, also offers a balanced review of the pros and cons of volunteering, even when it works.
If you’re volunteering in South America, be sure to check out Volunteer South America for free opportunities.