Then you stumble upon an organization that is looking for someone just like you, and you become ecstatic with this newfound information.
Voluntourism, for lack of a better term, has become a controversial trend for people of all ages and backgrounds. The criticisms are not unfounded, because unfortunately, there are dozens of companies and people that will take advantage of a young and impressionable mind. Many young adults look for an alternate gap year before or after college and want to explore the world while having meaning behind it.
This, to me, is the main reason to be critical and wary of volunteering organizations and volunteering abroad. But for every unethical organization out there, there are many that do provide substantial help to the local communities. Not only that, but some provide the opportunity for privileged individuals to change their worldview.
If you are someone who wants to volunteer abroad, here are some vital questions to ask before you set out.
Ask yourself, “Why am I really going?”
Do you want to gain experience working in development? Or do you want to land a helping hand? Many reasons are justified, but some are nobler than others. Think twice before going if you’re simply going to “find yourself” and intend to post daily pictures on social media or to update your dating app profile picture.
Ask yourself, “What will I be contributing?”
If you want to go somewhere but don’t have any set of skills that is okay. The most important thing to remember is to know that jobs in developing countries must first go to the locals. If you intend to go, expect to attend to the needs of the children or helping out with the locals in a non-interventionist way
Ask yourself, “Why am I paying this much?”
If the money you are putting down towards the organization you are going to volunteer with does not cover airfare or insurance, proceed with caution. There is absolutely no reason why your savings account should be drained when you are giving your time and energy to an organization that is operating in a developing country.
Ask yourself, “Am I being ethnocentric?”
Developing countries need help in various areas, but they don’t need a savior in the form of an unskilled, inexperienced traveler. Traveling and volunteering should expand your horizons, and not make you feel like you are lending the best hand from the best area in the world.
I’ve spoken with hundreds of volunteers and the conclusion I’ve drawn after speaking with so many of them is that most people want to do good. To them, making a difference in the world means making a difference in one person’s life.
I personally volunteered at an orphanage in Haiti back in 2011, and I was guilty of a lot of what I am criticizing now, but I learned something that will always stick with me – I made the children happy, and that is all that was asked of me to do.
These questions might make you answer hard truths, or they might affirm your position. Either way, it’s always important to be conscious of certain issues and actions when you volunteer abroad.