If you are reading this blog, the chances are that you are interested in volunteering in another country. Overseas volunteering is something with a broad appeal, from students taking a gap year, to professionals looking for a career change, to retirees looking to offer their skills. In fact it is an activity that many people have on their bucket list of ‘things to do before they die’. There are a few reasons for this. Maybe it seems to offer a more authentic travel experience, off the well-worn tourist trails; an opportunity to connect and exchange with local people. Or it can be a way to give back to the communities that have provided us with such fond memories. It also offers a way to help and make a difference in the places we travel to, especially ones with seemingly such stark needs.
However, ensuring that we offer our time to the right place in the right way is not as easy as it sounds. As the numbers of travelers looking to volunteer has grown, so too has the number of service providers offering volunteer experiences. Sometimes motivated by a profit or status-building incentive, there are examples of volunteer placements that end up being surface level experiences created purely for travelers to feel good about themselves. Or even worse, the good intentions of tourists and volunteers can be taken advantage of by corrupt organizations or unscrupulous individuals who may even harm or exploit those the project purports to help. These may not be the first thoughts on your mind as you are searching through websites looking for your way to contribute to the world!
The reality is that volunteer travel offerings are as diverse and varied as a two-week holiday on the beaches of Bali and a year with a development agency in South Sudan. While those two extremes are easy to distinguish from their location and party appeal, many volunteer travel offerings in the exact same location can be structured in ways that make the offering educational and empowering for all involved or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, result in more harm than good. The trouble is, it’s really hard for potential volunteers to tell the difference between the two without looking beyond the surface level marketing.
But don’t give up just yet! Learning Service is on the case with a toolkit of tips and tools of how to ensure that our volunteer choices are responsible. We are an education and advocacy group aiming to help people improve and rethink volunteer travel. We are launching a mini-video series with tips and tools for responsible global volunteering.
The first 4 videos have been released, and another two will become available over the next couple of weeks, so please check them out:
Finding a Responsible Volunteer Placement
Being a Valuable Volunteer
Returning from your Volunteer Experience
To launch the campaign, they are also launching a competition with the chance to win some great prizes. Just watch the videos and answer a simple question! We would love for you to watch and share the videos, enter the competition, and join the global conversation.