Vo·lun·tour·ism (n.): When a person, usually young, goes to another country to volunteer their time and effort, while taking that opportunity to tour a new country.
Sounds innocent, right? Not so fast! Do a quick Google Search for “voluntourism” and you quickly arrive on a horror of apocalyptic proportion.
To be fair, they raise some good points. However, voluntourism by itself isn’t a bad concept, even if it’s been badly executed in the past. Here are a few tips for making sure your voluntourism experience is a great one!
When researching non-profit organizations to volunteer for, try to find a cause that you care about. A lot of that will be making sure that you do the appropriate amount of research. Try to make sure that you’re volunteering with a reputable nonprofit that isn’t just a tourism trap.
When it comes to volunteering, the more local the organization, the better. That’s because local organizations know better than large international ones exactly what their community needs, and how to get it. These projects are more likely to be specific and individualized, and have a greater impact. You also get to have a deeper bond with the organization, as oftentimes you’ll be working alongside the founders!
It’s important to realize that three days of volunteering probably isn’t going to make that big of a difference to the nonprofit you’re working with. Try to plan for at least two weeks, and if you can, even longer, so that you can be properly trained in what the organization needs, and then have the time to actually make a difference.
This probably goes without saying, but your biggest skill is probably not construction – although if it is, go for it! Otherwise, steer away from projects like building a school, or other jobs that you may not be qualified for. Just like when you're applying for a job, you'll be able to make the biggest impact by contributing your strengths - not your weaknesses. The important thing to keep in mind is that you want to lend the most helpful skills you can – whether that be event planning, marketing, or simply speaking English.
In other countries, English teachers are in high demand, and free English teachers even more so, because being able to speak English gives their students a competitive edge in this ever more competitive market.
To make sure you make the most out of your volunteering experience, try to schedule your traveling around the volunteering schedule, so that you’re not missing volunteering days to have fun. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun! Most volunteer programs don’t have 40 hour weeks – they’re usually closer to 20, because the organization realizes that you’re donating your time. There’s still plenty of time left for touristing and having fun, just do it in your off time. Even better, plan a trip before or after your volunteering project!
So there you go! Hope that was helpful :) If you'd like to go abroad through AIESEC, check out our opportunities at: aiesecus.org/opportunities