Sustainable Volunteering Explained
Being a volunteer overseas can be a phenomenal way to make an impact. You'll be able to contribute to worthwhile causes and help people who really need the help. However, before you jump in with both feet, it pays to spend a little bit of time doing some research.
Beware of Volunteer Profiteers
Unfortunately, there are many volunteer opportunities out there that are much more about making money from tourists than actually helping the locals.
This is especially prevalent in extremely impoverished countries.
For example, an orphanage might bring in kids from neighboring villages just for show. They lure in tourists, who have to pay large sums of money to volunteer there. The money then goes to the organizers, rather than to the children.
The most important thing to look out for when you're thinking about volunteering is the reputation of the organization. If a lot of people have volunteered there and they seem legitimate, by all means. On the other hand, beware of fly-by-night volunteer opportunities.
Never Pay to Volunteer
There are many, many companies out there that will set you up with some kind of volunteer opportunity in exchange for a fee. These fees are sometimes modest, but can sometimes fall in the several thousand dollar category.
In reality, if you're working with a real non-profit organization whose goal is to make a difference, there's no reason for them to ask for that kind of money.
A real non-profit would be glad for the help they can get. They're happy to have your English skills, an extra pair of hands and any knowledge you can pass on or anything else you can contribute.
It's common for volunteers to be asked to pay for their own room and board and possibly a small administrative fee. But if you're looking at a volunteer opportunity and they're asking for a large amount of money, red flags should go up.
Helping without Organizations
If you've never set foot in a country, it can be very tempting to just have an organization handle the booking process for you. However, often times the best way to make a difference is to just do it yourself.
Instead of having an organization figure out where you can volunteer, just fly to the country and figure out what the most prevalent issues are.
Is it reconstruction after a disaster? Is it homelessness? Child prostitution? Or, if you're after something more light spirited, teaching English or sustainable farming?
Whatever the case, it's often better to figure it out once you're actually in the country rather than online. You'll actually get a sense for what's really going on.
Once you find an issue you're passionate about, just ask around for the various organizations in the country. You'll find dozens. Then just pick a couple and approach them directly.
The desire to volunteer is an incredibly pure and honest desire to give back. But before you commit, just spend a little bit of time to make sure that what you're doing truly is contributing to a cause that will make a difference.