Volunteering as part of your travels is an eye-opening, unique and soul-enriching experience. It’s another way to immerse yourself in the local culture and throughout the years, volunteer tourism, or voluntourism has become a huge part of the travel industry. Whether it’s teaching English or building schools, nurturing traumatized animals or conserving marine environments, there are plenty of volunteering programs that you can sign up for. Volunteering gives you a chance to help the underprivileged community and at the same time, hone your skills and learn new ones.
However, as the popularity of voluntourism rises, it has unfortunately created an industry of organizations profiting off underdeveloped communities under the guise of helping them. So, if you’re planning to sign up for a volunteer project, there are a few things you’ll need to consider first. To ensure you choose a sustainable and reputable organization that strives for lasting positive change, follow our tips on how you can volunteer ethically when traveling in another country.
Do your homework
This goes without saying, but if you’re planning to spend six months or two weeks volunteering on a project, you need to do your research. There are thousands of projects out there but they are not the same and it’s important to choose projects that align with the work that you want to do. Join Facebook groups, find a reputable and sustainable organization to work with and most importantly, check the organization’s background to avoid being scammed.
There’s also the question of how far outside your comfort zone you’re willing to go. When volunteering at remote destinations, there might be things that we take for granted such as easy access to water and electricity. This is part of voluntourism — stepping out of your bubble and experiencing an alternate way of living that could change your life!
Choose the right organization
Be wary of organizations that use buzzwords like “ethical” or “sustainable” to describe themselves as it doesn’t mean that they always are. Conservation reserves or animal sanctuaries that promote up-close encounters with wildlife including cuddling up to them is a red flag, as this is purely animal exploitation with no regard for the animal’s welfare.
Apart from the ethical issues, be sure to check that the organization is legitimate. Yes, it might be hard to tell from afar whether the organization is reputable or not. What you can do is to check if they’re registered with the local government, and if they are, it’s probably a safe bet. On another note, donating money or time to help children in orphanages is not advisable. While it may seem like you’re “giving back”, more often than not, orphanages have become a profitable front, where children are taken away from their families to “act” as orphans. Keeping these children in squalid conditions ensures the donations keep flowing. So, avoid orphanages at all costs!
Ask the organization what they need
You might have the knowledge and skills of a contractor, but, if you want your volunteering experience to have a real impact, it’s important to put the needs of the organization before yours. Find out what the organization needs and then work together to find out how you can meet those needs. Always remember that it’s about the community!
Know where your money is going
If you’re paying thousands of Ringgit to volunteer at a place where it’s cheap to visit and the living cost is relatively low, you need to be questioning where your money is going. Usually, volunteering fees would go to your food and board, project equipment and paying the project coordinators and workers. For a legit organization that strives to be transparent, they should be upfront with how your money is being spent, so don’t be afraid to ask! You need to make sure that the money you’re paying goes to the community and supports the project.
Be prepared and respectful
Now that you know where to volunteer, be sure to be fully prepared prior to your trip. Make sure you have all the relevant documents before you travel and do check if the destination requires you to be vaccinated. Apart from that, it’ll be helpful if you learn about the culture, customs, language, and more. As you’ll be traveling to new places and meeting new people, do refrain from criticism and judgment when things are completely different from what you’re used to. Keep an open mind.
Follow these simple guidelines to ensure you have a fulfilling and rewarding experience when volunteering abroad. We know you can do it!