The Dangers of Voluntourism and How To Avoid It

by Faye Palmer, GLOBUS Correspondent

What is voluntourism?

International volunteering can be an excellent cultural exchange with many positive outcomes for both the host community and the volunteer. However, some profit-driven volunteering companies do not have the intentions of the local community at heart, which can lead to more harmful consequences than good.

Voluntourism is characterised by the following:

  • Extremely expensive packages that include tourist leisure activities such as scuba-diving. Remember that international volunteering is not a holiday!
  • Short term stays and ‘quick-fix’ solutions. Often volunteers will volunteer for short periods of time, such as 2 weeks in a local school, so young children are exposed to a conveyor belt of unqualified volunteers which is disruptive to their development. Sustainable volunteering has long-term goals in mind and therefore should require long term stays of 3-12 months. Volunteering is about commitment, dedication and long-term sustainability.
  • Little to no training of volunteers – companies may impose unqualified, untrained volunteers in a local community which can have adverse effects on the community. Companies can earn millions from sending volunteers across the world to impoverished communities. Poverty shouldn’t equal profit. 

Great companies to work abroad with

This is by no mean an extensive list however below are some great examples of companies that encourage sustainable volunteering and work placements, although remember you must always do your own research before working abroad!

Image credit: Unsplash

ICS – International Citizen Service : ICS is an international organization providing overseas volunteer opportunities for 18-25 year olds. They focus on long-term goals, sustainability and putting the needs of the local community first.

Au Pair World: Au Pair world offers the opportunity for young people to live with a host family in a foreign country to improve their language skills in exchange for domestic labour such as looking after children and basic household duties.

Workaway: Workaway offers work placements with NGO’s, sustainable projects and families amongst other more diverse options such as animal welfare and even sailing. Placements can be completed individually, as a couple or two friends, or in a group, and therefore is a great way to meet new people whilst offering help in exchange for food and accommodation.

Unfortunately, good intentions do not always coincide with good outcomes. So, it is important to take the time out to investigate an organisation to ensure that the benefits of your volunteer work are experienced by those it was intended for.

More detailed information can be found on the following links:

Header image at Unsplash by Kon Karampelas

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