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Serving the World Through Voluntourism

By Jennifer Allman-Guinn, on November 21, 2019

Volunteering abroad, or voluntourism is a growing trend in world travel that can be a deeply enriching and rewarding experience for volunteers and the communities they serve. Areas that need educators, workers, and other skilled expertise can truly benefit from those willing and able to make a commitment and put in the hard work to truly make a positive difference. Not all good intentions, however, lead to positive results, so it is important to understand exactly how you can leave a lasting impact on your chosen community.

    Cultural Education


    There is a very good reason that voluntourism has traditionally been reserved for high school, college, and youth group programs. The experience lies far beyond the work that will be accomplished in their destination, since there are skilled educators teaching students about the people, culture, and unique world they will be entering well before they step off that plane or bus.   
    Understanding the culture you are entering allows everyone involved to learn from one another. A truly helpful volunteer is one that continues to work on behalf of their chosen community even when not physically present. For example, simply helping to build a new school is noble work, but does nothing to address whether the education system itself is doing all it can to properly educate their children. 
    By taking the time to learn from the people of the community, you can begin to understand the education system and become one more advocate that helps to ensure that a new school is properly staffed and filled with the proper materials and resources.

    Know the Country’s Workforce and Infrastructure


    Remember that you will be entering a community filled with human beings who lead rich and fulfilling lives. They are not “charity cases” simply waiting around to be rescued. Like you, they want to see their own communities thrive and succeed, and are often hard at work to make that happen. Your presence should enrich that experience, not take it over. Remember that you will only be there helping for a short time before heading back to your life, so the work you do needs to part of a sustainable system that is already in place. 

    To that end, ensure you know whether the work will continue after you have left. And even more importantly, seek to understand whether this work would be completed without any volunteer help. As a volunteer, you will obviously not be paid for your work. But does this mean that skilled laborers who would otherwise have employment suddenly find themselves out of a job? If your volunteer effort means increased poverty for the citizens you want to help, you may want to rethink your plans.

    Focus on the Skills You Already Possess


    In using the school building example again, realize that a group of well-intentioned yet unskilled laborers may not provide the best possible work for the school you would like to build. This is especially true if your efforts are replacing a talented laborer who would otherwise have a paying job. 

    If you are not skilled in building, but are an educator or a community organizer, consider volunteering in those areas instead. Helping others needs to be about providing the best possible assistance where it is needed most. And again, inexperienced labor may hurt your otherwise well-intentioned work in the long run.
Spending the time and money to help others who need it is a wonderful experience that can be enriching for all involved. Ensure you understand your visa requirements, and thoroughly research the destination and how you can best serve the community before embarking on your trip.
Jennifer Allman-Guinn

About the Author

Jen is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in travel tips and best practices. Other content specialties include pets and animals, sports, healthcare and medical devices, environmental concerns, education, and marketing best practices.


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