Travel feeds the body, mind and soul; there is no doubt about that. Travellers often return from their trips with new vigor and a just a little bit wiser about the world. The money they spent on their vacation, in turn supports countries and other cultures, but sometimes those cultures need more than just money brought from tourism. They need help building schools, digging wells, learning new skills and preserving the delicate environments and historic sites that bring the tourism dollars in. For that, there is volenteer tourism, or voluntourism, as it has come to be called.
What is Voluntourism?
Many travellers believe they need to promise away months or even years of their life to relief or other volunteer organizations to help people in need, but voluntourism allow visitors to see an exotic land on vacation and help the local people while they visit often for a cheaper price than a regular vacation to the area. No long term commitments are needed and visitors still get to see the country, but all while getting that warm fuzzy feeling from helping people, that is what voluntourism is.
Many of us have a strong urge to help others, but very few ever pounce upon the opportunity when it presents itself. Very few ever hop a plane to travel halfway across the world to help a country ravaged by an earthquake or a tsunami much less go places because they might be able to help build or teach something. Voluntourism provides an outlet for would-be vacationers to be better people. It is the better alternative to the standard vacation where travellers can off their skills and time while being part of a team and interacting with diverse cultures in ways that can change their world.
Yet, while voluntourism takes advantage of the traveller's skills, no special skills are needed. Everyone from retirees, college students or everyday average Joe's and Josephine's can do it regardless of their education or general skill level. After all, anyone can wield a hammer or dig a ditch that will make the difference for a community in need.
Voluntourism is a way to fulfill that intense desire to help in a way that might not seem like much at the time, but will be remembered forever. As an added benefit, selflessly giving to others is a major resume booster for both young and old alike.
What to Consider Before a Voluntourism Trip?
Like with any trip, there are some key things to consider before taking on the volunteer vacation commitment:
How Much Time Do You Have?Some trips will take longer than others. When volunteering with children, expect to stay longer than you would when say, building a house. Children need stability and it would be cruel to bond with the children for a week while teaching them and then leaving suddenly. Shorter trips will usually entail more physical labour, while teaching requires a longer stay. Those who have the time can also sign on for other programs while still in the country as many organizations run programs in succession.
- Where Do You Want To Go?
This is probably one of the more selfish, but still important aspects of voluntourism to consider. It's great to help people in need, but visitors should at least be in a place that interests them. Almost every country in the world needs a little help. You can be helping conservation in Yorkshire, teaching technical skills in Hungary, or building houses in Uganda. It can be a choice of what place needs help the most if travellers so choose, or it can be where they want to visit and do some good while they are there.
- Do You Have Any Particular Interests or Special Skills to Put to Use?
As with where visitors want to go, it is also pertinent to consider what you want to be doing on your trip. If you want to escape your day job, then it might be a fun change to do something else while on a volunteer tourism trip. However, if you have any special skills that might be helpful, it can feel good to put them to use in the service of others. Before booking a voluntourism trip, take a long hard look at yourself and think about what you can and what you want to do.
Experteering is the combination of "volunteering and expertise." It represents the giving of your most valuable assets, your time and mind, to the organizations that need it most. In exchange, organizations will provide you free, immersive experiences, and in the process, you'll further develop your own skills in a remarkable way. Experteering is perfect for working professionals.
Around the world, social impact organizations are struggling to grow and create a bigger impact because they lack access to the technical, business, and creative skills needed to scale. To overcome these challenges, they are willing to provide free local experiences to people with the right skills.
Because experteering results in skills-based projects, like setting up an accounting system, developing a marketing plan, providing a training on program management best practices, etc., it is of paramount importance that you are prepared to operate within the local and cultural context of the region you are experteering.
What to Expect on Your Trip?
After planning out the specifics of the trip - where to go, what to do, for how long and how much it will cost - all that is left is to do it. Some organizations set a specific time to arrive at the airport while others will recommend a flight to book a seat on so everyone will arrive together. Regardless, from there visitors are taken to the work site where their accommodations will likely be nearby.
Travellers can expect to meet a diverse group of people not just in local cultures, but within their trip group as well ranging from grandparents or families to students and even teens. Travellers can expect to work at least half of the day with ample free time provided in between along with meals and sleeping. Some organizations split the trip in half focusing on solid days of work first and once the job is completed, it is time to play. During periods of free time, visitors can interact with the community or even travel outside of it to experience more of the host country.
At the end of the trip, visitors will be transported back to the airport or they can talk to organization officials to find out about any other volunteer opportunities in the area or elsewhere starting up soon that they can sign up for.
How Much Does Voluntourism Cost?
One of the first questions that potential volunteers will ask is - How much will my volunteer experience cost? This is a good and valid question, but the answer is that it depends on how you plan your trip or what organization you sign on with.
The cheapest end of the spectrum is obviously to go on a volunteer vacation in your own country. Yes, there are even those in Canada, the United States, Britain and indeed all of the modern developed world that need volunteers to help. Volunteering on your home turf will likely never cost over a few hundred dollars.
Standing the middle ground is volunteer vacationing with non-profit organizations. This is the best way to go if you are interested in seeing the world and helping along the way. The fees for non-profit trips generally cover administrative fees and your own cost of living, making it the cheapest way to see the world. The price varies on time and place, but for example a six week volunteer program in South Africa with the Global Volunteer Network costs CA$2,300.
On the most expensive side of the spectrum is the voluntourism programs run through guided travel companies and agencies. The travel companies are often the first stop for those interested in volunteer tourism. These are all-inclusive, hassle-free packages, but are offered at a premium. Whereas travellers through non-profit organization only pay for what travellers need to live, travel companies tack on the charges to pay their employees and more. Volunteer touring this way is certainly easier but the same 6-week trip to South Africa with a non-profit company will cost around CA$4,000 with a travel company.
What Do Voluntourism Program Fees Cover?
Programs will again different in what they cover, but the majority cover the same amenities as well as leave some aspects to the digression of the visitor. The fee paid for a voluntourism trip will include meals made up delicious and occasionally adventurous local cuisine; accommodations that can vary from hotel, guest house, community centre or even private home; and ground transportation between the airport, accommodations and community site.
The fees typically don't cover airfare, visas or medical and trip cancellation insurance. The wise traveller will want to turn to a travel agent for good advice and the best deals on those aspects rather than fuss with it themselves. It can be stressful to both research and handle all of those miscellaneous fees before a trip, but travel agents already have the research done and can often dig up some of the best deals.
Visitors will also need to get the necessary vaccinations for the area they are visiting beforehand as nothing can ruin a volentourism trip quicker than a tangle with malaria or yellow fever.
Types of Voluntourism
Voluntourism comes in all different shapes and sizes. If a traveller can think of someplace they'd like to be or something they would like to be doing, it is assured they can find a program right for them. Typically voluntourism programs fall under these five categories:
- Education - Teaching, plain and simple. It's not always teaching children, education can range from all age groups. Volunteers that pick education-based programs will find a number of organizations that have a demand for English teachers, but there is also a need for those who can teach about computers, electronics, building and basic medical practices.
- Medical - Doctors, nurses and indeed anyone with medical training will have the pick of litter when it comes to where they want to go. Medical personnel are always in demand and desperately needed in some areas.
- Technical - As the developing world continues to improve, so does their technology. Programmers, IT Professionals, Engineers, Electricians and anyone employed in the field of technology has a place waiting for them abroad. It may be improving the infrastructure of a country or educating locals on how to use and maintain it, but those that fit this category are growing almost as important as medical professionals.
- Environmental - This is one of those categories that anyone can fit into if they want. As the world continues to progress, historic sites, natural landscapes and animals continue to be threatened. Those that would like to see them preserved will find an abundance of environmental voluntourism programs where they can help in a variety of different ways while learning about the unique environments at the same time. Travellers can find their place nurturing and rehabilitating wildlife, cleaning pollution, planting and regrowing native vegetation and restoring old buildings all of which are integral to the tourism and natural splendor of the area.
- General Labour - If none of the above categories fit your skill set, if you want to get your hands dirty or you just don't want to be doing the same thing you'd be doing back home, there is always a need for those with strong backs and a desire to do some real tangible good. Those with even basic construction, masonry or woodworking skills can be put to work while others can dig wells or stock supplies. There are always jobs waiting for those willing to put in the work.
How to Get Started?
Getting started with volunteerism is as easy as any form of travelling. The first step is to decide on doing it. Afterwards, it is time to research the variety of options including which organization or travel company will provide the right travel experience for you.
Once the location, job, and all the fees and preparations for travel have been taken care of, it is recommended that travellers research as much about the country they are visiting as possible. It never hurts to brush up on social customs, traditions and maybe even learn a few crucial words of the local language that will help ease any culture shock.
Voluntourism is prey to the occasional scam, as all things are, so it is best to do the due diligence on the organization or program before making a choice. For the beginner it is best to stick with the well-established programs or even shell out the few hundred extra dollars to run through a travel company. As for what organizations to choose, here are a few good selections.
MovingWorlds helps people find the best place to volunteer their skills, anywhere they want to travel. Whether you go on your own, or through an employer-sponsored program, opportunities on MovingWorlds provide free accommodations and local benefits in exchange for your expertise. Its online platform connects people directly to social impact organizations where they can partner to plan around the timing and needs of both parties. Both "experteers" and "hosts" also have access to exclusive training, resources, and the experteering planning guide to help ensure safe, high-impact engagements. Corporations and universities can leverage the same platform to create and manage worldwide skills-based volunteering programs. Founded as a social purpose corporation in 2012, MovingWorlds is addressing the global talent gap.
For more information visit their website: https://movingworlds.org
This is a great beginner organization to get involved with, especially for those that don't quite know what they want to do or where they want to go. With established volunteer, internship and language programs, Project Abroad provides the best options for those looking for an international experience and has a wide array of programs available.
For more information visit their website at http://www.projects-abroad.org/
A not-for-profit organization that works to raise funds for the MAD (Make A Difference) Foundation. Their voluntourism programs provide sustainable and ethical projects to those that want to make a difference through education, child welfare, healthcare, health education and employment skills.
For more information visit their website at http://www.madventurer.com/
An established volunteer organization for more than 25 years, Global Volunteers allows potential voluntourism travellers to choose a destination to help for a flexible amount of time, from one week to six months and any amount of time in-between with destinations on every continent.
For more information visit their website at http://www.globalvolunteers.org/
Cross-Cultural Solutions provides local and international opportunities through partnering with local and sustainable organizations. With an emphasis on shared cultural understanding, this leader in international voluntourism has developed a number of programs such as Alternative Spring Break.
For more information visit their website at http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/
The Frontiers Foundation is an Aboriginal, non-profit group that helps voluntourism travellers give a hand to remote First Nations communities in Canada. This includes teaching and tutoring youth, housing constructions programs, and improving the infrastructure in secluded communities in the Northwest Territories, Nunuvat, and the Yukon.
For more information visit their website at http://www.frontiersfoundation.ca/
For those passionate about the planet, GoEco is the organization that can pair your passion with meaning. GoEco sends travellers all over the world to help environmentally challenged communities, aid threatened wildlife and help repair the wilderness.
For more information visit their website at http://www.goeco.org/
Global Volunteer Network
Global Volunteer Network - After nearly 15 years of service to the world, the Global Volunteer Network has become one of the leading voluntourism organizations in the world. They don't have the selection of destinations as some voluntourism organizations do, but rather focus on a select few locations that truly need aid. While they only have a handful of destinations, they have a wide array of projects available in those areas.
For more information visit their website at http://www.globalvolunteernetwork.org/