There are genuinely good-hearted people in this world who enjoy using their vacation time to volunteer to a worthy cause. However, when it comes to merging this charitable desire with travel and volunteering abroad – also known as voluntourism – there are a lot of problems that arise that would most likely break their little do-gooder hearts. The better way to do some good for projects or causes abroad is to get involved with a project to raise funds and awareness, and then donate those funds to charitable cause of your choice. Otherwise, you might choose responsible travel instead.
The Dark Side of Voluntourism
In contrast to the volunteer portion of the title, voluntourism more often than not doesn’t actually help anyone. First off, voluntourism is for-profit and because people are dishing out a lot of money to volunteer abroad, this creates a market and demand for voluntourism projects. The unfortunate result is that it becomes corrupt and futile, and in the end the experience you are paying for isn’t helping anyone.
Why? Well for starters, an increasing number of these volunteer positions and projects are created merely to have volunteers pay to fill them. This creates meaningless projects that have no long-term goal for good in sight. Furthermore, they are often projects that accept people to work in an idealized role that has nothing to do with their actual experience; Say, for example, building houses or helping orphans. However, if you have never swung a hammer, chances are that you can’t build something durable and stable that will last for years, and you are probably taking work opportunities away from locals in the community who are struggling to sustain themselves. This obviously hinders instead of helping this community.
Ultimately, real volunteer opportunities will take your skill-set into mind and will offer you a position that meets this skill-set. For example, for me, it might be related to blogging or website design. So if I was accepted to help out an orphanage, and I don’t have an early childhood education or social work degree, it would most likely be to help them with something like setting up a blog through affordable services and linking it back to their website or social media accounts. If any volunteer opportunity offers you a position that has nothing to do with your education and abilities, then you should walk away. Chances are they are in it for the money and not the humanity.
Voluntourism Hurts and Hinders People
And of course things are worse for the communities that these organizations are operating in. Voluntourism has become such a big industry that it is now a for-profit business sector, often with little concern for the people or communities that it claims to help. Especially when it comes to opportunities to work in orphanages, these voluntourism programs are downright harmful.
First, the constant flood of people through the orphanage offers no stability to the children. They are constantly meeting new strangers that they will most likely never see again. They have enough chaos in their lives and a stable living environment should be granted to them.
Second, there are often no background checks made on volunteers, which means that people are accepted to these program who may not have the most honorable reasons for wanting to be around children, which puts them at immense risk.
Finally, a glut of orphanage scandals is revealing that many of the children in these orphanages aren’t even orphans. Because it doesn’t benefit these orphanages to actually find homes for the children, they aren’t invested in placing them in a family were they could feel loved and happy. But even worse, the more children they have, the more voluntourism money they can make, so they actually coerce poor families into giving up their children, which splits up happy families. This is the exact opposite of what orphanages are supposed to do. It would be more positive, helpful, and healthy for people to donate money towards projects that help to financially support these poor families and keep these families together.
How Responsible Travel Differs from Voluntourism
In stark contrast, responsible travel is committed to delivering what it promises, while bringing positive change to communities and working towards conservation goals. Companies like Responsible Travel work along these terms, attempting to offer trips that actually have a positive impact; and they are always respectful of the local communities in which they are operating. Furthermore, not only do they offer ethical volunteering opportunities, but they also actively work to end unethical practices as well, like what they are working towards with their Children are not Tourist Attractions campaign. Responsible travel operations are transparent and have a humanitarian or conservationist goal in mind and not a financial end-goal.