Volunteering and Voluntourism: The Good, The Bad, and The Questions You Should Ask

If you have an interest in volunteering internationally or happening voluntourism journey, what are the moral concerns try to be conscious of? Which questions are you able to ask to higher be certain that your actions and any monetary contribution are aligned together with your values and expectations? That you do not find yourself doing unintended hurt together with your purpose of serving to or “doing good”?

That’s what this text goals to unpack. But first, a narrative.

As we rounded a busy Port-au-Prince avenue nook on our option to the southern coast of Haiti, I checked my messages and observed a Tweet from certainly one of our readers, a younger lady:

@umarket I am planning a visit to Haiti to assist at an orphanage. Do you are feeling protected? Sort of fearful. Would be good to listen to from somebody there!

On all accounts I used to be able to reply, however I turned to Cyril, our Haitian information, and requested: “What do you think?”

“I would advise her to be very careful, perhaps choose to do something else,” he stated.

He wasn’t speaking about her bodily security, although.

“Especially after the earthquake, many of these orphanages were set up just to make money from foreign volunteers. Traditionally in Haiti, we didn’t have orphanages. Once people realized they could make money from this, the orphanages began to appear. In some cases, the children there actually have parents.”

While we’d encountered and learn of orphanage tourism earlier than, particularly in locations like Uganda, Nepal and Cambodia, our dialog outdoors of Port-au-Prince lent foreign money and context to a tragic actuality: though we are able to got down to do good by way of service, contribution and volunteering, we are able to typically inadvertently do hurt as a substitute.

Cyril concluded, “There are plenty of good organizations in Haiti. And there are ways to volunteer that don’t involve orphanages. She should just be careful.”

Volunteering is an efficient factor, proper? But will it actually assist the folks you purpose to serve? Should you continue to volunteer in case your service would possibly do hurt? Are there questions you possibly can ask earlier than you go to determine all of it out?

We didn’t want to squelch this younger lady’s urge to serve, to contribute, to interact, to provide again. We help and have a good time such altruistic inclinations. However, circumstances — the socioeconomic panorama, unscrupulous brokers, and even our personal intentions — can conspire to inadvertently hurt the folks and communities volunteers got down to assist.

This is why consciousness of the potential unintended destructive penalties of volunteering and voluntourism is so essential. And in case you assume this solely impacts a number of folks, assume once more. The volunteer “industry” is at present estimated at $2.Eight billion in annual income, and is predicted to develop as extra folks search volunteer experiences every year.

Just as in our piece Should Travelers Give to Children Who Beg?, we try and deal with a posh, nuanced subject loaded with shades of grey. Feel free to skip forward to what pursuits you most:

Note: This put up was initially printed on August 6, 2015 and up to date on December 12, 2018 with extra assets and instruments.

Voluteering and Voluntourism: Defining the Terms

Let’s begin by defining a handful of key phrases. We perceive that definitions usually are not horny, however as we defined the occasion to colleagues and buddies, we acknowledged the chance of their misunderstanding and misuse.

Ethical Volunteering, Experience in India
Audrey listens to the tales of a microfinance group in West Bengal, India.

1. Volunteering (Volunteer)

Many of us are aware of the idea. Volunteering includes actions ‘performed with free will, for the benefit of the community, and not primarily for financial gain’ (Leigh et al., 2011). In essence, we give our time and abilities to profit others.

Note: For the needs of this text, we assume worldwide volunteers heading from developed nations within the “West” or “Global North” to growing or transitional economies also known as the “Global South.” However, we imagine the concerns we deal with apply regardless of your origin or vacation spot.

2. Voluntourism (Voluntourist)

A munge of the phrases “volunteer” and “tourism” used to explain short-term volunteering placements of vacationers as a part of their general trip or travels. In many instances, the volunteer placement shouldn’t be particularly linked to the voluntourist’s particular abilities and includes a restricted time dedication. In different phrases, the location is commonly designed extra with the intent of offering an expertise to the vacationer somewhat than fulfilling a particular want throughout the host group.

Volunteering vs. Voluntourism
Volunteering and voluntourism are sometimes used interchangeably, although a big distinction exists. Voluntourism is when the first function of the journey is to journey, however features a volunteer part. For instance, you journey to Kenya on safari however spend time — from a number of hours to a number of days — at a Maasai village instructing English. Volunteering is when the first function of the journey is to work or to serve. Though a volunteer might journey as a part of her expertise, her service to the group is the first cause for the journey. One instance: my 27 months as a Peace Corps volunteer in Estonia.

Volunteering in the Peace Corps
Reuniting my English class from my Estonian village 4 years after I volunteered.

three. Global Service Learning

Service Learning is an academic strategy that integrates significant group service and instruction. The “meaning” half is pushed by a service expertise that exposes the participant to broader points similar to frequent human dignity, self, tradition, social accountability, and socioeconomic, political and environmental circumstances. (tailored from Hartman & Kiely, 2014 and UNCFSU’s definition)

Note: For consistency and brevity, we’ll use the time period “volunteer” as shorthand for people participating in any of the three actions above.

four. Host Community Organization

The group on the bottom that receives the volunteer and works along with her for the advantage of the area people. Host organizations are usually positioned in socioeconomically challenged areas of Africa, Asia, or Latin America.

5. Intermediary Organization

Let’s face it, for somebody sitting at her desk in New York City, it is difficult and time-consuming to type by way of volunteer host organizations in villages all over the world. That’s the place middleman organizations step in. Think of them as brokers, middlemen, organizers, or third-party suppliers that place volunteers. These organizations may be non-profit or for-profit, and their adherence to moral practices varies extensively.

6. Sponsoring Organization

A sponsoring group encourages, advises and often organizes its members to take part in volunteer or service studying actions. Some examples embody research overseas places of work at universities, church teams, and community-based service organizations. Sponsoring organizations will typically work with middleman organizations to coordinate volunteer placements.

Two-Way Benefits of Volunteering and Service

There is a cause why volunteering has turn out to be so in style. Ideally, a volunteer expertise includes an trade — of tradition, abilities, humanity and standpoint — so that every social gathering advantages. It displays our evolving human must:

  • Connect, to develop and really feel human connection.
  • Learn from native folks in a international, unfamiliar context.
  • Contribute. To give and to provide again. To add worth to and present profit to others.
  • Grow. To frequently problem, adapt and evolve ourselves. To really feel transformation and shifts in our perspective.
  • Create which means. To give better function to our lives. To perceive ourselves, the world and our place in it concurrently.

Benefits to the Host Community

Perhaps the potential advantages of volunteering to host communities are apparent. That’s additionally why it’s essential to restate them.

1. Transfers Needed Skills

Volunteers might possess sure abilities and know-how that a host group wants, from pc abilities or English language instructing abilities to superior engineering or medical abilities. The purpose of the volunteer expertise is to switch her abilities to people locally as a way to assist shut a niche, thereby illustrating everybody’s favourite empowerment and improvement proverb, “Give a man to fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for life.”

For instance, final yr in Rwanda, we met a bunch of retired academics serving to to develop instructors and enhance instruction at a university within the capital metropolis of Kigali.

2. Provides Necessary Funds

This is a crucial profit, maybe as a result of it’s typically neglected when analyzing the moral panorama of volunteer applications. Organizations in growing nations or transitional economies typically battle to search out sustainable sources of funding. Collecting charges from worldwide volunteers (who primarily pay for his or her expertise, room and board) is without doubt one of the methods some organizations select to function and survive financially. One illustration got here to us by means of a corporation in Moshi, Tanzania known as Give a Heart to Africa, whose volunteers pay charges that present the continuing funding for the group and the free grownup schooling lessons it supplies to native girls.

Volunteering in Tanzania for Women's Education
English class at Give a Heart to Africa, taught by an American volunteer.

three. Bonds the Community to the Volunteer and the Wider World

Think of this because the intangible optimistic pressure for good, the magic issue of moral, considerate volunteering and international service. Embedded in a single’s worldwide service is the concept that somebody outdoors of the host group cares, and that the group itself is a part of a material, linked to the broader world. In the perfect of circumstances, the connection of volunteer to group reinforces that we’re all human and that our commonality vastly outweighs our variations. Zikra Initiative, working inland from the Dead Sea in Jordan does this properly by reinforcing the idea that everybody has worth, one thing to share and one thing to study.

Benefits to the Volunteer

When I used to be in Peace Corps all of the volunteers would joke within the brightest moments of self-deprecation and self-awareness, “When you join Peace Corps you think you’re going to save the world, but you soon realize that the person who benefits most from the experience is you.” Having stated that, I am happy with my contribution not solely to my host group, however to others locally with whom I stay buddies to this present day.

So what are a few of these advantages to the volunteer?

1. Satisfies one’s altruism

On probably the most primary stage, volunteering satisfies our must serve, to provide of ourselves, to provide again.

2. Improves current skilled abilities and develops new ones

When we think about service, we could also be tempted to think about it a one-way switch of abilities from the volunteer to the host group. However, the event of the volunteer’s abilities is commonly accelerated by encountering new issues and contexts within the discipline. This arguably applies universally — from development to medication, from engineering to schooling. For instance, I taught economics and enterprise at a neighborhood highschool in Estonia, and helped native college students create enterprise plans and put together for enterprise festivals. This not solely improved my talking and presentation abilities, but it surely additionally gave me added confidence.

Volunteering with Kiva, microfinance in Guatemala
Using our images abilities to share the story of Kiva debtors to assist elevate funds.

three. Develops emotional intelligence

An immersive volunteer expertise can develop a raft of private and skilled “soft” abilities together with cross-cultural communication and empathy. Both are essential to understanding the internal workings of our globalized world…and ourselves.

School in Bangladesh
Navigating a sea of questions from younger college students at college in rural Bangladesh.

four. Develops situational creativity and drawback fixing abilities

When you end up in an atmosphere and tradition very completely different from your individual for a sustained time period, you’ll seemingly develop a sure form of emotional elasticity and flexibility. You may also encounter issues you’ve by no means earlier than imagined, and trend options you by no means might have imagined, both.

5. Become a world citizen, shift your outlook and perspective on the world

So a lot of your current assumptions, stereotypes and fears come into query, and a lot of them fall away. Working along with native folks in vastly completely different cultural, geopolitical and socioeconomic circumstances can broaden your view not solely of the area the place you serve but additionally of the broader world.

This course of is deeply instructive; we’ve witnessed buddies steer new instructions in life after a volunteer or immersive studying expertise.

Creating New Connections, Turkmenistan
Challenging assumptions and constructing new bonds in Turkmenistan.

6. Enhances your resume or CV

Whether you want to be accepted right into a graduate faculty program or to groom your self for an expert alternative, an immersive, related, sensible volunteer expertise on a resume can strengthen your private story and make you a substantively stronger candidate.

Japanese Students
Dan helps a bunch of Japanese college students full their English class project.

A Way to Support International Educational Opportunities for Disadvantaged Youth

If you have an interest in offering deprived youth within the United States a global studying expertise that includes these advantages, please think about supporting the Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Exchange (FLYTE) initiative launched by our buddy Matt Kepnes. FLYTE is elevating funds to help 5 worldwide group journeys for college kids chosen from decrease revenue communities within the United States.

How Volunteering Can Cause Harm: Causes and Effects

Given all of the “good” surrounding volunteering, how can there be so many drawbacks? And what are the forces at work that create an atmosphere the place serving can do hurt?

We’ll deal with each right here.

Note: By no means is that this an exhaustive record of considerations. Nor is it meant to be utilized broad brush to each group you would possibly work with alongside your volunteer journey. These are concerns you ought to pay attention to so you can also make higher, extra knowledgeable selections.

The Unintended Negative Consequences of Volunteering: four Causes

1. First, a phrase: Money

When a corporation’s very existence turns into depending on cash from volunteer charges, it’s onerous to not think about numerous brokers falling prey to conflicts of curiosity. It’s a twist on the precept agent drawback, or the fox and the henhouse. Some middleman organizations present a service by connecting volunteers with alternatives and communities in want. However, the commercialization of volunteering can typically result in initiatives that deal with the flawed wants, manufacture totally new ones, and divert assets and consideration from the place they’re wanted most.

2. The Pressure to Impress (Profiles and CVs)

In case you haven’t observed, there’s a rising stress to trend a compelling social and skilled profile. Sometimes it’s to impress colleges or potential employers. Now greater than ever, demand exists for the distinctive and distinctive in a single’s CV — within the type of “story”, “transformation” and “experiential” dimensions to set a candidate aside and underscore her obvious preparedness, worldliness or emotional intelligence. For a brief clip on this damaging cliche, hearken to “the mission that changed my life” vignette from 7:20-Eight:10 on How I Got Into College.)More usually, this is applicable to social profiles, once we attempt to impress our buddies and friends with tales of heroic, distinctive and triumphant worldwide experiences and contribution.

In itself, all this isn’t totally unhealthy. That is, till volunteering turns into a egocentric short-term checkbox train that inadvertently disregards the host group and their actual long-term wants.

Leigh Shulman, talking of her personal expertise taking over volunteers at CloudHeadvert, an NGO she co-founded in Salta, Argentina, places a high quality level on it: “It’s been my experience that about 1% of the people who want to volunteer are actually qualified to do so. And of the rest of the 99%, a very small percentage truly want to do the work. I think there’s this weird image people have that if they volunteer they are ‘good people.’ So really, the act of volunteering becomes selfish.”

three. Unprepared or untrained volunteers don’t have the abilities wanted

This is one half trigger and one other half impact. Sometimes intermediaries place volunteers in conditions they don’t seem to be ready to deal with. Perhaps they don’t have the emotional or cross-cultural abilities, and even worse, they lack the skilled or technical abilities. There are tales of pre-professional medical volunteers treating sufferers or administering medical care with out correct coaching. Not solely is that this harmful, however it may be lethal.

School Projects in Bolivia
This time, Dan is being taught…the right way to correctly wash his arms. Potosi, Bolivia.

four. The group has not been consulted

If nobody asks the area people or host group what it actually wants, even in passing, how is it potential to assist? This sounds apparent sufficient, however sadly it occurs repeatedly that a global NGO or native organizer assumes they know, creates a program that doesn’t deal with an actual want, and the group and volunteer find yourself dissatisfied. For instance, it could sound like an ideal thought to construct a brand new faculty for a group. But in case you have been to ask that group they could say they like to maintain the present constructing, however would like cash to pay for extra academics or books as a substitute.

You by no means know till you ask. However, your questions may not yield the outcomes you’d hoped for.

Unintended Negative Consequences of Volunteering: 5 Outcomes

1. Resources are diverted from actual issues and new issues are created

Perhaps the perfect examples are the ready-made orphanages created to use crises and the general public’s need to assist. Money is commonly required to get better and rebuild, however the flip facet is that the mere presence of cash will also be gasoline to the hearth of greed. This is the philanthropy world’s useful resource curse or paradox of loads.

How to cease it? Awareness is good begin. And within the case of orphanage tourism, focus as a substitute on applications that switch useful abilities to oldsters to allow them to earn their very own cash and handle their very own kids. Not as straightforward and horny as an orphanage, however actually a greater basis for long-term change and improvement.

We recommend you watch The Love You Give quick documentary with tales informed of how volunteering in orphanages can unintentionally break up households and trigger a destructive cycle. This movie is produced by Better Care Network which is a part of a coalition known as ReThink Orphanages, a pacesetter in making an attempt to forestall institutionalization of youngsters. It’s eye opening and it is actual.

Volunteering with Kiva, Microfinance in Guatemala
Investing in initiatives that develop a mom’s abilities so she will be able to earn extra for her household.

2. Intermediary teams hold the location cash for themselves

It’s not exceptional for sizable quantities of cash to be paid to an middleman group for a volunteer placement, just for little to none of that quantity to finish up within the arms of the host group or host household. This occurred to Shannon O’Donnell, a colleague and buddy of ours. After paying an middleman group for a volunteer placement to show at a monastery in Nepal, Shannon later found that not one of the placement cash was handed on to the host group that housed and fed her. In order to assist different volunteers keep away from this kind of expertise, she wrote the Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook and developed Grassroots Volunteering, a database of volunteer host organizations who settle for direct inquiry and placements.

three. Children can expertise destructive developmental results

There are research that present that the impact of a continuing stream of latest, pleasant faces, whose quickly-formed bonds of attachment are usually damaged after they go away, can negatively have an effect on early childhood improvement. Some organizations go as far as to advocate avoiding any service with kids in international nations.

four. Local economic system disadvantaged of paying work

When we met Adrianne and Rick, they informed us how after they first volunteered in Cambodia over 10 years in the past it appeared a good suggestion to make use of their labor to construct properties and colleges. However, they quickly realized the unintended penalties of their free labor on the group: it took jobs away from native folks. Today, they fundraise at house in Canada and use the proceeds to purchase supplies regionally and to rent native painters, carpenters and handymen to do the work.

This isn’t to say that every one development initiatives are unhealthy. Sometimes, there’s a real lack of expert or prepared labor, however in different instances, volunteer labor deprives the native commerce economic system of the chance to develop and evolve.

5. The group and people are harmed because of incompetence

In excessive instances of ill-conceived volunteer placement, a volunteer with inadequate coaching or skilled abilities has a life in her arms that she has particularly been positioned to deal with or save. In different instances, the host group wastes useful working across the unskilled volunteer.

Video: Good and Bad Community Impacts of International Volunteering and Voluntouring

Sometimes a video can summarize a number of thousand phrases in simply a few minutes. Globalsl.org’s current video does simply that by summarizing analysis insights on the potential advantages and drawbacks of volunteering.

Note: You can learn the transcript and discover extra assets on Globalsl.org.

Questions to Ask Before Volunteering

After all this, you might be questioning what to do subsequent to higher navigate the volunteer waters. The following questions are meant that will help you consider whether or not a volunteer alternative will suit your objectives and aims and whether or not or not it’s an moral, sound volunteer placement.

You may also be pondering: “Man, these guys are really raining on my parade. All I wanted was to do some good and have some fun.”

Travel Social Enterprise in Jordan
Trying to make shrak, conventional bread, throughout an expertise with Zikra Initiative in Jordan.

Yes, and…in case you want to optimize your expertise with out harming anybody, it’s essential to ask questions, together with ones that may make you — and others — really feel somewhat uncomfortable. Legitimate, moral organizations will recognize your queries. Those who ignore, dismiss or in any other case reply defensively ought to offer you pause to rethink.

Questions to Ask Yourself earlier than Volunteering

1. What are my objectives for volunteering?

Really. Let’s be sincere right here. What do you hope to get out of the expertise personally and professionally? Is this one thing to look good in your CV or resume for graduate faculty? Or to achieve extra expertise or to hone a selected talent? Or to problem your self by immersion in a tradition and atmosphere past your consolation zone?

Perhaps you’re extra more likely to save the world in case you’re sincere as to who you’re serving: you, the group, or ideally, a mixture. You shouldn’t really feel unhealthy in case you want to derive profit from a volunteer expertise, however be frank with your self to information the selections you make. This consciousness will assist you to discover a program that greatest makes use of your abilities, fulfills your objectives, and delivers profit to the host group.

2. What do I hope to contribute to the host group? What abilities will I carry to bear?

It’s essential to handle your expectations and the group’s concerning your abilities and impression.

three. Which of my abilities do I hope to enhance? How?

These might embody skilled abilities and “soft” private progress and life abilities.

Questions to Ask Volunteering Intermediaries and Host Organizations

1. Will the host group actually profit from my presence? How?

Does this system work along with group leaders to develop initiatives that meet actual wants? Will the group profit from one thing lasting and sustainable? Or are they merely making room for volunteers like me with out investing of themselves within the course of?

2. Are there any circumstances the place my lack of expertise can hurt the host group?

This is a very essential query to ask the place components of private security could also be concerned, like medication or civil engineering. Some excessive examples of those embody: “Am I expected to deliver medical care when I don’t have the experience or qualifications to safely perform my role? Am I expected to build a bridge or design a water filtration system beyond my qualifications?” Think earlier than you commit.

three. How a lot time is de facto wanted for me to have a optimistic impression on the group?

This is a difficult one, as all of us have tight schedules and restricted quantities of time. If you’re in search of a deep, immersive expertise with a tradition and group, it’s unlikely that a week or two here-or-there volunteer placement goes to assist. There’s a cause why many host organizations won’t settle for volunteer placements shorter than three months. By the time the volunteer is “up to speed” and contributing, will probably be time for her to return house. The outcome: extra work and rework for the host group and group.

four. Where is the cash going?

If cost to your volunteer expertise is concerned, the place is that cash going? How a lot of it goes on to the group? What form of coaching or transitional help will you obtain from the middleman or host group for that placement price?

These days, it’s commonplace to pay a price for a volunteer expertise. However, certainly one of your objectives should be to maximise the contribution to the host group group.

5. Will my presence take away jobs or studying alternatives for native folks?

This is essential, notably if the mission has a constructing or development part. What is the rationale for volunteers supplying labor rather than native employees looking for paid employment?

6. Are there methods to contribute aside from by giving your time and abilities?

The reply to this query is commonly sure. There are loads of alternatives to boost funds or frequent social enterprises on the bottom who help group organizations with their income. In truth, following a pure catastrophe it’s really greatest NOT to e-book a flight and volunteer since cash is often more practical within the arms of vetted native or worldwide organizations on the bottom.

Volunteer and Voluntourism Resources

If you have an interest in studying or studying extra about moral volunteering and alternatives, listed here are a number of assets you would possibly discover helpful.

Awareness of Ethical Volunteering Issues: Resources and Information

Volunteering in Orphanages: Why Say No

Resources and Articles on Finding Ethical Volunteering Opportunities

Moving Forward: The Future of Volunteering

If you’re contemplating volunteering, we perceive these points would possibly at first appear somewhat daunting. However, consciousness of them locations the ability in your arms — the ability to provide cautious, deliberate thought to the results of your selections and actions. Ask questions and you possibly can vote together with your toes to decide on a possibility you’ve correctly researched, that’s vetted and matched at its core to the nice intentions residing in your coronary heart.

When you do, you may discover that you just even have the ability to make an actual impression, not solely on the lives of the folks and communities you purpose to assist, but additionally by yourself.

If you have got questions concerning volunteering or voluntourism, please go away a remark. Our purpose is to make this an ongoing useful resource for all these fascinated by moral volunteering and international service.

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Ethical Volunteering and Voluntourism: Questions You Should Ask

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