Voluntourism is a relatively new term to describe a relatively old concept: traveling for the greater good. Voluntourism.org offers this definition: The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination.
In other words, with voluntourism you can have your cake and eat it too. Appease your travel nature and your desire to give back by traveling and volunteering at the same time. You might help build a school, teach at local community center or even assist a struggling community rebuild after a natural disaster.
Sounds great (it is great) but as with all trips, it’s important to do some research first. So before you don your superwoman suit and sign up, let’s take a look at the questions you should be asking yourself and your voluntourism operator.
DECIDING TO GO
Establishing your expectations is the likely the most important preparation you can undertake before volunteering abroad. Are you expecting to change yourself, or change the world? Can you accept that no matter how much time and effort you put in, the job may never get done? Taking that a step further, can you find solace in knowing that your time and effort are ALWAYS valuable?
A few questions you should consider before volunteering:
- What are you looking to get out of this? Experientially? Socially? Educationally?
- Are you OK leaving your comfort zone?
- How well do you cope with language barriers?
- Do you mind going few days without showering?
- Can you cope with different hygienic practices of other cultures?
- Are you able to recognize that right or wrong, countries have different gender roles than you are used to?
- What are your expectations of the culture and community you are working in?
- What are the expectations you have of the people you will be working with?
- What are the expectations you have of yourself to contribute to the community?
- How do you expect to feel when you return home?
CHOOSING YOUR TRIP
Here are a few questions to ask operators to make sure you’ve found a genuinely sustainable project that’s right for you:
- What is the average age of volunteers on this project?
- Can I chat with volunteers that have done this project before?
- What work will I be doing mainly? For how many hours a day? For how many days a week?
- Do I need to speak another language to really enjoy this project? Is there a translator nearby if I need one?
- What are the accommodations like? Will I have to share? Do I need to bring a sleeping bag?
- What kind of food can I expect to eat?
- What’s included in the project fee? Meals? Lodging? Will I need to pay anything else in country?Then there are the general safety questions like:
- What is the emergency evacuation plan should a natural disaster, riot, etc happen?
- Where is the nearest hospital or clinic?
- Is there a number that my parents/friends/loved ones can call me at to make sure I’ve arrived safely?
- Is there a number I can call 24/7 to get help?
- Is there someone from your company in country to help/advise me?
- Do I need to get any immunizations before I go?
- Are there certain clothes I shouldn’t wear because of cultural norms?
All in all volunteering abroad can be a rewarding experience for both you and the community – just be sure you do your homework before you go to avoid disappointment.