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  • Writer's pictureDorien Scheets

Is Volunteering Abroad Actually Good?

Updated: Mar 13

Hey there fellow globetrotters! Today, let's embark on a journey of reflection and contemplation as we delve into the ethics of volunteering abroad. Volunteering has the power to create a positive impact on communities worldwide, but it's crucial to question the organizations behind these initiatives and whether they truly align with the needs and wishes of the local community.



Picture this: you're all set to embark on an exciting adventure, venturing to a far-off land, ready to make a difference, armed with your enthusiasm and a heart full of good intentions. But hold on just a sec! *record scratch* Is the volunteering work you're all hyped up about actually going to be doing real good in the community its working in? Before we dive headfirst into volunteering abroad, we must consider the ethical dimensions of our actions.


Volunteering can be an enriching experience--no doubt about it. It can genuinely contribute to a community's well-being and transform people's lives in incredible ways, including yours. When done right, it fosters cultural exchange, empowers locals, and tackles social and environmental challenges. Yet, the reality is that not all volunteering programs are created equal. We must critically assess the organizations offering these opportunities and ask ourselves some tough questions.


Step 1: Dive into the deets about the organisation you're volunteering with

First off, let's shine a light on the organizations organizing these volunteer trips. Are they genuine in their commitment to positive change, or are they merely capitalizing on our desire to help? Some organizations prioritize profit over people, charging hefty fees and failing to allocate resources effectively. It's essential to support initiatives that are transparent about their financials, where the majority of funds flow directly into the communities they serve. Always look for organizations with a track record of sustainable and community-led projects.


Step 2: Think community-first

Now, here's the biggie: does the community truly want volunteers? It's easy to assume that our presence is automatically beneficial, but we must recognize that not every community is in need of outside help. In some cases, our presence can inadvertently disempower locals by perpetuating the "white savior" complex. Instead of parachuting in with all the answers, we must listen and learn from the community, understanding their unique challenges and needs. By collaborating with local stakeholders, we can ensure our efforts align with their aspirations.


As informal as it may sound, "doing good" abroad is not as simple as snapping a selfie with adorable kids or painting a school wall. It demands introspection and a willingness to challenge our preconceived notions of impact and change.




So, how can we make ethical volunteering a reality?

  1. Thoroughly research volunteering organizations: Dig deep into their mission, values, and past projects. Look for authentic reviews from previous volunteers to get a real sense of their impact.

  2. Assess the program's sustainability: Are they providing short-term band-aid solutions or creating lasting change? Seek initiatives that prioritize long-term community development over quick fixes.

  3. Cultivate cultural humility: Be respectful of local customs and traditions. Embrace cultural exchange as an opportunity to learn and grow, not to impose our way of life.

  4. Question your motives: Are you volunteering for the right reasons? Check yourself to ensure your intentions are rooted in genuine empathy and not driven by self-gratification.

  5. Listen and collaborate: Engage with the community to understand their needs and desires. Only then can we create projects that truly make a positive impact.


Here are my favorite, bottom-up international volunteering programs that prioritize community needs and well-being:

WorkAway:

WorkAway is a platform that connects travelers with hosts who offer accommodation and meals in exchange for volunteer work. The projects listed on WorkAway are often community-driven initiatives, such as organic farming, teaching, construction, and cultural exchange. Volunteers have the opportunity to directly engage with locals and contribute to projects that align with the community's needs and interests.




World Packers:

Looking to combine your passion for travel with a meaningful volunteer experience? World Packers might just be the platform you've been seeking! World Packers is a unique organization that connects travelers with hosts around the world, offering an opportunity to exchange skills and knowledge for accommodation and meals. But what sets World Packers apart from other platforms is its strong commitment to ethical, community-first volunteering. At the heart of World Packers' philosophy lies a focus on community-driven projects. They collaborate with local NGOs, social enterprises, and grassroots initiatives to design projects that directly address the needs and aspirations of the communities they serve.




Amizade:

Amizade offers immersive and ethical volunteer programs that emphasize cultural exchange and community-driven development. They collaborate with local organizations and communities to design projects that meet specific needs. Volunteers work alongside community members to implement sustainable solutions and support long-term goals, focusing on empowering the local population.



A note:

Please note that due to the dynamic nature of volunteer programs, it's always a good idea to conduct thorough research and read reviews from previous volunteers to ensure that the organization aligns with your values and goals. Additionally, be mindful of any fees associated with volunteering and verify how those funds are utilized to support the community initiatives.


To wrap it up...

In conclusion, volunteering abroad has the potential to be a life-changing experience, both for the communities we serve and for ourselves. But it's crucial to approach it with an ethical mindset, questioning the organizations we support and ensuring our efforts are in line with the community's wishes. Let's embark on this journey with an open heart and a critical mind, aiming to create a more equitable and compassionate world together.


Happy volunteering, and safe travels, fellow change-makers! 🌍❤️

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