Volunteering Overseas: What to Consider

People generally volunteer to do something meaningful and experience a new culture. However, some volunteer-sending companies may be more concerned with creating a ‘life-changing’ experience for the volunteer, with less focus on the purpose and the needs of local communities.

For instance, the growth of orphanages, in many cases, directly corresponds to the increase in tourism numbers that have been driven by well meaning but uninformed tourists who volunteer and donate to the orphanages.

There are now millions of children sent to live in orphanages, away from their families as it is deemed to be the only way these children can get an education.

However, decades of research show that growing up in a residential care institution is harmful for a child’s development and well-being. This has led to a global effort to move away from this model of care as a response to poverty.

We are a division of World Expeditions, which is on the working party of the Rethink Orphanages Network, an organization working to prevent the unnecessary institutionalisation of children in developing countries.

Here are 10 things to look for to make sure your time overseas is spent making a genuine difference:

1. Track Record
Look for evidence of past achievements and how programs are monitored and evaluated.

2. Integrity
A growing number of companies have ceased orphanage volunteering. Find out who.

Since 2013, we’ve removed all instances of orphanage tourism from our trips when research first revealed a direct relationship between the increase in the number of orphanages in developing nations and the increase in tourism numbers. We hope that our involvement will encourage other companies, and travellers, to avoid orphanage tourism.

3. Accountability
Some organisations recruit volunteers for their own programs; others act as ‘volunteer brokers’ and may not have end-to-end accountability for the project or your safety.

4. Selectivity
Expect to apply to volunteer and be vetted as if you were applying for a job or university. You should also receive pre-departure support.

5. Credibility
Emotive language like ‘saving the world’ or ‘giving children the love they need’ may be used to recruit volunteers, but it’s not an indicator of quality.

6. The ‘Need’
Make sure your role will enhance local capacity – e.g. by providing training to, or working with, local people to meet a short-term skills gap.

7. Sustainability
Check there’s a project end date, not a long-term dependency on volunteers.

8. Skills Match
What do you have to offer? Skills in high demand include digital, monitoring and evaluation, fundraising, language and computer skills. However, some community projects may not require specific skill sets.

9. Suitably Qualified
Avoid placements for which you are not skilled or qualified – e.g. teaching or caring for children or providing medical care.

10. Learning Opportunity
How will you apply what you’ve learnt back home? Employers will be interested in evidence of impact, not just the fact that you have volunteered overseas.

Did you know, globally, an estimated 80% of children in orphanages have a living parent? Watch this short documentary revealing the untold story of orphanage tourism.

The solution to orphanage tourism is to re-direct support away from orphanages towards programs that help to strengthen communities and keep families together.

Want to make a difference? Join our Alternative Schoolies where you can help marginalised communities and give back to the world.

If you are a teacher and want to get your students involved, you can include a service learning element in your next school program – simply get in touch.

#ThoughtfulTravel #ChangeVolunteering

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