Volunteer Capital Centre (VCC)

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Volunteering abroad, harm or good

“If our hopes of building a better and safer world are to become more than wishful thinking, we will need the engagement of volunteers more than ever." – Kofi Annan. Volunteering abroad is becoming a huge industry being currently valued at $ 2.6 billion with an approximate 1.6 million volunteer tourists from the United Kingdom. As such volunteering abroad or voluntourism is a big business and it has started to take peoples’ notice. There have been a lot of conversations on twitter, facebook, blogs and many social websites about volunteering abroad. The conversations are about the benefits and harms of volunteering abroad to the community. One article written by Ian Birell, “Before you volunteer abroad think about the harm you might do.” Shows the negative effects that volunteering abroad has on the community in which the volunteer work is being done. A lot has been brought about by the article, for example how unscrupulous organizations take advantage of communities as well as international volunteers in order to make money. It also says that voluntourism is a form of “colonialism” and orphans are being paraded like animals to be viewed. Although there are people and companies out there who are using volunteering abroad to make huge profits there are also well meaningful companies and volunteers who really want to do good in the world. Here are tips for volunteers to help them go abroad:


As a volunteer who is passionate about helping others not only your friends, kinsmen but also strangers then s/he should volunteer abroad. The world has so many problems and if the volunteer wants to make an impact and is passionate about it should pack their bags and go abroad. There could be bad apples in the basket, but this should keep you from leaving home to help others. Even though some organizations take advantage of the industry, the volunteers should realize what they are doing. The main reason they are doing it is to help somebody who is needy not just for them to feel good. Even though the volunteers only work for a week, there is a tremendous mark left on those who have been helped. This is the essence of volunteering, giving up one’s time and resources to go help somebody else who is in need.

Independent volunteers

Many of the concerns facing volunteering abroad is that the organizations they are volunteering with are out there to make money. The organizations take advantage of the poor and sell “poverty” to the well off travelers or volunteers. They show the plight of the poor making the travelers to invest their money to help some community. To counter being taken advantage by these unscrupulous companies, the volunteers could try and organize everything for themselves. Although this takes time and a lot of effort the volunteer can cut out the middleman (the volunteer service organization) and arrange everything for themselves. They should plan for which organization they could work in, where to stay, where to eat, and visa requirements. If this is too much for the volunteer, or if the volunteer doesn’t have time to do it, they should properly vet the organization they are going to use. The volunteers should look into everything about the programs and the organization itself. If they are not satisfied by an organization, they shouldn’t give up but start looking at others.

Volunteer programs

The volunteer programs in which the volunteers will work in affect the communities. These programs are the ones many people have problem with. They are normally badly drawn up that they are ineffective and don’t help anyone in the long run. The programs should be local solutions made by local people and should address the local problems. Poor programs not only waste the volunteers’ time but also the communities’ resources. In addition some programs are not sustainable in that when there is no volunteer working there they can’t be run. Volunteers should make sure that someone else will come and pick up where they left off. Orphanage programs are one of the most popular but also have the biggest effect on the community. In these programs the volunteers will be working with vulnerable children. When the volunteer leaves, the children feel abandoned and suffer psychologically. To prevent this, the volunteers should try to keep in touch with the kids they are working with. This will help them get over abandonment issues.

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