GENEROUS HEARTS - IS VOLUNTOURISM RIGHT FOR YOU?
Although many are unfamiliar with the concept, voluntourism is a travel niche that has been around for a while. In essence, voluntourism is the act of doing volunteer work in the community where you’re vacationing.
By no means is this an essay on the pros and cons of such work; instead, I’d like to discuss what’s involved so that you can make an informed decision as to whether or not it’s right for you.
WHERE CAN I VOLUNTEER?
Every state in the United States and every country in the world has volunteer opportunities. That doesn’t necessarily translate into “voluntourism” opportunities. You can help with conservation and clean water projects, disaster response, work with animals, marine life, and wildlife, and teach children in indigent communities. If you’re a licensed healthcare practitioner, you can use your medical skills in communities where accessing healthcare is difficult. You can participate in faith-based programs around the world or even help with research in less developed countries. I spent many years wanting to be a “foster mother” for a baby monkey – until I realized they would strap the monkey to me for six weeks without breaks. The point is this: no matter what type of volunteer project you want, you can generally do it while vacationing somewhere.
WHO CAN VOLUNTEER?
Adults and children can volunteer, but children ages 10-12 and under are often not permitted due to safety issues. Often, church groups formulate a specific faith-based mission trip, or healthcare workers and organizations create a medical mission. Many opportunities offer family-based programs so that multi-generational families can participate. Very often, mature adults choose this type of vacation, and their years of expertise, skills, and knowledge in so many fields are invaluable to the communities they serve.
HOW MUCH TIME IS DEVOTED?
If your entire vacation is devoted to volunteering, you’re likely working 8-12 hours a day on behalf of the charity. If you’re genuinely vacationing but want to give a little time, some organizations will arrange this for you depending on where you’re going and what you’d like to do. It’s important to remember that voluntourism is not about you and your convenience – it’s about serving the needs of the community that you’re in.
WAIT…IT’S NOT FREE?
Voluntourism is not free. If your entire vacation is based on volunteering, you may pay just as much as you would for a different vacation. This is because charitable organizations do not have the financial resources to pay for your accommodations, food, and other expenses. That is your contribution on top of your time and labor. Most people I know who have “volunteered” have raised at least part of the money through friends, family, and colleagues.
Remember that you will generally be in indigent communities where 5-star hotels don’t exist. Expect to avoid fancy or upscale…you’ll be lucky to find moderate conditions. You’ll probably find yourself in a hostel-type bunk bed, lying on the floor in a sleeping bag, or in a basic bed with a monkey strapped to your chest (sorry – I had to!). Bathrooms are shared spaces, and food is generally served through donations from the local community. That’s not to say there are not luxury voluntourism opportunities – there are, but you’ll have to look for them.
I can’t tell you if voluntourism is right for you. And, since I have yet to vet any agencies specializing in this travel niche, I can’t tell you which one is better.
If your generous heart wants to do something different on your next vacation and volunteering is in your blood, this may be a perfect option for you. Who knows? It could be the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done.