Tips on how to pick authentic volunteering programs
TRAVELING is an opportunity to step away from the daily grind and explore a world beyond what you already know. It’s also an experience that is reserved for a privileged few.
Okay, maybe more than a few given that the international travel and tourism industry is continuously growing, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that you have to have a certain amount of dollars in your bank account to travel.
In other words, travelers have worked and saved to see the world, or for a lucky few been gifted a trip. But no matter the methods of funding the trip, traveling is considered a privileged experience.
The same, if not more so, applies to luxury vacations. Whether it’s flying first class, staying at an exclusive Maldivian resort, or taking a scuba diving trip along the Great Barrier Reef, there are more options for luxury travelers than ever in the 21st century.
That having said, every traveler should spare a thought to the people that aren’t as fortunate as them.
Traveling is about giving you perspective and opening your eyes to new cultures so understanding, appreciating and giving back to the communities that have welcomed you should be at the top of every traveler’s must-do list.
A form of giving back is called “voluntourism” but it’s not totally straightforward. It’s got a bad reputation across the world for enabling people to stay poor and struggle so that volunteers can believe they’re helping.
One such case of this was reported by The Guardian when a Guatemalan Christian mission, Hope of Life, was discovered to be scouting sick babies in remote regions and instead of rushing them to a hospital, they called the volunteers to come and retrieve them.
Essentially what the organization was doing helped the sick babies, but the focus was more on providing an experience for the volunteers, which is fundamentally wrong and harmful to those in need of help.
The volunteers at Hope of Life probably wouldn’t have known this was the case until it was exposed, but all the same, their efforts and money were poorly utilized and could have benefitted those in need so much more.
That’s why it’s essential to understand the type of volunteering you’re undertaking. Here are some tips to help you find out whether the program is authentic or just a money-grabbing scheme:
Know why you’re doing it
First, it’s important you know why you want to volunteer.
If you’re volunteering in order to improve job prospects, take selfies or because your friends are doing it, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons and you’ll most likely do it half-heartedly which won’t benefit anyone.
You should volunteer because you want to make a difference to lives which aren’t as privileged as your own, create a world perspective that isn’t dominated by national news outlets, and to challenge yourself.
Figuring out whether the volunteer program is legitimate should start at finding easily accessible information online. This could be directly on their website or through a trusted third-party organization such as IVHQ, Greenheart Travel, or Volunteering Solutions.
However, don’t take this information at face value. Always investigate further by talking to as many people as possible.
Speaking to the organization
If you’re able to contact your host, talk to the staff at the organization and have your queries answered before you arrive.
One crucial question you should ask is, “How is the volunteer’s money used?” If you’re redirected to a snippet on the website or told an unconvincing spiel, it’s probably a sign that the organization isn’t using the money to help those it purports to.
Unfortunately, there are many NGOs and so-called charities which are controlled by greedy board members who prefer to line their own pockets rather than help those the money is intended for.
Expect the organization to be as curious about you
The organization you’re thinking of volunteering with should ask as many questions about you as you do about them.
If an organization seems not to care about your experience, language skills, background or qualifications, chances are they’re just after your money.
Speak to those who have volunteered
On top of speaking to the program organizers, speaking to those who currently work at the organization or have previously volunteered there is a great way to get a feel for what’s in store.
Ask them about everything from the hours you’re expected to work to what the accommodation is like, what to bring with you, the challenges and rewards you might face.
Never stop volunteering
Whether it’s an early morning spent litter-picking on the beach or years spent creating safe environments for vulnerable children, never feel as though the job is done.
This isn’t to say you need to spend your life volunteering but if you’re able to help those in less fortunate positions, do it in any which way, shape or form you can.