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Voluntourism: A Controversial Way to do Volunteer Work
What is Voluntourism?
Voluntourism is a form of travel where people go on a holiday with the aim of doing volunteer work. This usually involves significant payments to a company that will organise the volunteer placement.
Voluntourists can choose to volunteer for a short, or long, period of time in a variety of places, in a variety of different roles. For example, volunteer projects may range from two weeks to six months or more in duration, may be found in the person's home country or overseas, and may involve working with children, animals, the environment, or something else.
How Does it Work?
When wanting to become a Voluntourist, a person firstly needs to find a company that organises these trips. One can visit the websites of these companies, and choose a project, or projects, that appeal to him or her.
Once the project/s has/have been chosen, payment to the company needs to be made. This payment covers different things, depending on the project and the company. Often none of this money goes to the organisation the person will be volunteering for. It is a common misconception that payment for the project actually goes to the volunteer organisation or charity. Instead, the payment is usually used to cover the costs of hiring staff, both in the home country of the paying voluntourist, and in his or her destination. These staff have jobs ranging from offering customer support to people trying to choose a project, to in-country co-ordinators who offer support to the voluntourists during their visit. Sometimes the company will also organise food and accommodation for the voluntourists, and some of the fee paid goes towards this.
The voluntourist then needs to organise everything not organised by the company they are voluntouring with. This normally includes air fares, any necessary visas, travel insurance, transfers, spending money, immunisations, etc.
Once everything has been organised, the trip can begin!
What are the Positives?
There are some obvious benefits of Voluntourism. The main reason, of course, is that people, animals, and the environment are receiving help and support from motivated and eager voluntourists who are genuinely trying to make a difference to the world (why else would they be PAYING to volunteer?). Some of these organisations rely on the steady stream of voluntourists that come to help them on a regular basis. Without these voluntourists, the people, animals, or natural environments these organisations support could be left with little, or no, help. This is particularly the case in the poorest regions of the world. People living in these communities have to struggle on a daily basis just to get food and shelter, hence do not have the ability to do volunteer work for local organisations. If people from other countries can afford to travel to these regions to help out, then this is very beneficial, and should be encouraged.
When people travel to remote areas of the world to volunteer, they bring back with them the knowledge of the region, and can share this with other people who may also be able to help in some way. Most of these regions and communities are not known globally, hence do not get as much support, from donations and volunteers, as other, more well-known organisations. The stories of the people living in these places can now be heard by other people, sometimes living on the other side of the world.
There are many benefits for the individual voluntourist as well. Doing any volunteer work can be incredibly rewarding to a person, and can instill a great sense of pride. I can say, from personal experience, that the knowledge you, as an individual, is making a difference, albeit small, to those in need is an amazing feeling. Having experiences such as putting a smile on the face of a child in an orphanage, or building a house for a family in need, cannot be replicated. These rewarding feelings, as well as having the opportunity to see the world, are what is making more and more people participate in these projects.
What are the Negatives?
Whilst it is clear there are many benefits to Voluntourism, there are also some less-obvious negatives. One of these, is that some companies who organise projects for voluntourists, make profits that do not go back into the volunteer projects. These profits may be spent on luxury items, etc, depending on the company. It is important for potential voluntourists to research the company they are planning to organise their trip with, to find out exactly where their money is being spent. If it is being spent on large salaries for the company's CEO, it may be worth voluntouring with another company.
Another negative to Voluntourism is so-called "Silver Spoon Voluntourism." In this case, very rich people spend a lot of money staying in the best luxury hotels and resorts, and may spend one afternoon of their trip volunteering. Whilst it can be said that any volunteering is good volunteering, the question is raised as to the motives behind these acts of apparent generosity. Unfortunately, some of these Silver Spoon voluntourists are accused of doing this small amount of volunteer work in order to increase their status and reputation back home. There are other people who also volunteer for not-so-noble reasons, including wanting their resumes to look good, being able to brag to other people about their generosity, and merely for the recognition.
How Can I Get Involved?
If you have read the positives and the negatives of Voluntourism, and have decided to give it a go, then you need to start off by finding a company that organises placements for voluntourists. Once you have found a company, you need to research, research, research! Find out about the company's reputation, where your money goes, etc. Hopefully, from reading this hub, you already have some idea of the things you need to look into.
The following links are to companies that organise Voluntourism projects. I HAVE NOT researched these companies, I just found them through Google. Please do your own research before paying for a project!
Some Voluntourism Companies
- Volunteer Abroad Opportunities
Volunteer Abroad-Visit the most popular country by volunteering abroad, Volunteering Abroad opportunities include volunteer abroad-orphanage work, Aids programs, and participate in Voilunteer Abroad's Enviromental conservation efforts.
- Gap year travel, Volunteer abroad, TEFL Courses and more from i-to-i
Gap year travel, volunteer abroad opportunities, TEFL Courses, work abroad as well as Alternative spring breaks and Internships overseas from i-to-i
- World Camp - Volunteer in Malawi, Africa
World Camp For Kids is a non profit organization of college volunteers that work to help poverty stricken children around the world in places like Malawi, Botswana and Zambia, South Africa
What Are the Alternatives?
If you want to volunteer, but are not interested in Voluntourism, there are other ways you can get involved.
You can look for volunteer opportunities in your local area. Research these online, or visit local organisations you feel you can help. These may include nursing homes, schools, pet shelters, soup kitchens, etc. The list of worthwhile organisations that need your help is nearly endless!
In Australia, there are opportunities to apply for special volunteer placements where the Government pays for your airfares and some living expenses. These opportunities may also apply in other countries. Again, the best way to find out about these is through researching them online!
Whatever you decide to do, feel good knowing you are making a difference in the world.