The Internet is full of websites encouraging people to volunteer overseas. Is volunteering a life changing experience? Usually yes. But as in all rapidly growing markets, there appear certain myths about voluntourism one should know about, prior to making final decision about volunteering overseas.
01 All volunteer programs are good
It is hard to count how many organizations and tour agents are offering volunteer programs. Even though the idea of volunteerism is beautiful and valuable, there are many volunteer programs which can do more harm than good, and there are many organizations looking for making a profit out of volunteers. Unfortunately due to the rise of interest in volunteering, the quality of some volunteer programs goes lower and lower and the volunteers are kept convinced that what they do is helpful. This is why it is very important to be aware of one’s skills, abilities and especially be careful while choosing a volunteer program. Don’t worry, finding a valuable one might take some time, but it’s deffinitely worth it!
02 Working as a volunteer does not require any special qualifications
Many people decide to volunteer in countries in the Global South believing that there is not much needed to help. At some point this is true, but these regions beside enthusiasm need also particular skills and certain experience. Instead of going for teaching your mother language, think of some other skills that you can share with the staff of local organization. Many organizations do not require any particular skills, but to check whether your work can be really helpful, ask why local workers are not getting this job, and also ask yourself whether you would let any unexperienced foreigner do this kind of work in your own country.
03 Volunteering even for a short period, make a difference
This is a controversial topic. Short-term volunteer programs are great and valuable, but more for the volunteer themself than the host organizations. On one hand, many reports showed, that sustainable projects usually do not go along with the constant flow of volunteers. On the other hand, volunteering for a short period of time can be useful, but it all depends on type of the work. If choosing short-term volunteer program, avoid the ones based on working with children – emotional attachment to short-term volunteers reinforce a never-ending cycle of abandonment and does more harm than good. Instead, go for community based programs!
04 Choosing well-recognized international organization gives a guarantee of being placed in a well-run host organization
Many people decide to go volunteer overseas using help of reputable international organizations that facilitate volunteer programs overseas. Indeed, volunteer organizations can make your trip a lot easier, but one can not be sure that all programs are run well. It’s a very complex problem; some organizations are said to abuse poverty to gain income, other (regardless the best intentions) sometimes choose local partner organizations which work can be far from ethical. Even though many organizations ask volunteers for feedback, volunteers are not told prior to departure what they should expect, and what is unacceptable should to be reported. So it becomes a catch 22 – if there is something wrong, volunteer believes its ok and counts on the choice of international organization, and the international organization hopes to receive information about worrying signals from the volunteers. Before making a final choice remember to look for negative reviews and check whether there are any controversial facts about particular organization and program. In some cases, you can be surprised how many there are! But don’t worry, in the end there is nothing better than knowing you are working for the right cause, right?
Working with children is a beautiful and rewarding experience but many people get heart-broken when they see the loneliness, poverty and the sadness of children in orphanages. While volunteering in an orphanage, many volunteers instead of teaching and sharing their skills, choose to play with children. This causes two problems: the lack of educational value and a never-ending round of abandonment by trying to create an emotional bond with children. Children should be given education and a proper care, and only long-term sustainable projects can guarantee that.
One can never be 100% sure whether the volunteer program and the host organization will offer long-lasting sustainable development. Unfortunately, nowadays this is not only a question of a scale of positive effects, but also of the harmful ones. Some illigitimate organizations take profit out of volunteers which often leads to fueling human exploitation and child abuse. This is why don’t hasitate to take your time to ask as many questions as needed!
If you think of any other myth that should be on this list, let us know about it!