There are many reasons why you might want and should volunteer. We are used to think that volunteering is an absolutely good thing to do. How something done with the best intentions can be not good? Although, there might be some tricky aspects. Especially if you are looking for volunteering opportunities outside of safe EVS environment.

Please note that post is more about volunteering in developing countries, disadvantaged communities, and so-called voluntourism.

As the popularity of volunteering is growing, it’s not surprising that there are people making a good business out of it. There are a lot of organizations willing to send you abroad, including many exotic destinations, to volunteer at extraordinary prices.

It might be not easy to find the right project. Here are 5 important things (there are much more though) to keep in mind while looking for one:

  • Do your research to learn more about the organizations you are dealing with. Don’t become a victim of a nice-looking fraud. Do they really contribute to the community development or it’s just a cover of their profit-making business? If it involves any money from your side, where will it go? What projects have they realized and with what results? Who do they partner with? For example, some orphanages in Cambodia rent children from their parents to collect more contributions from visiting tourists.
  • If you are travelling abroad, especially to a completely different culture, or going to deal with a specific minority, take some time to do your homework and learn about the culture. It is very exciting to explore something new, but don’t forget to show respect to the local culture and traditions. For example, shorts, tanks and bikini you like so much might be not the best option in many countries.
  • Socio-economical systems are very sensitive. We believe that donations and voluntary help are always good. But are they? Help on one side might turn damaging on the other. For instance, giving free imported food or blankets produced in China, can disrupt local farming and production. Of course, sometimes help is urgently needed, but in the long run it might have some side effects. Make sure that solving one problem you don’t create another one.
  • Think where your skills can be really helpful. Participating in a school construction in a village in India is nice, but is it the best thing you can do? If you don’t have any previous experience, someone needs to teach you. In this particular example, a local worker will do the job better and faster than you. Try to think on a big scale and find the best application for your abilities.
  • Be sensitive. Especially if you work with poor and disadvantaged people. Don’t brag about your life, don’t show off your iPhone, iPad, DSLR camera, etc. Don’t pretend you are a superhero saving the world. Try to understand and maybe lighten somebody’s burden instead.

Volunteering is a great thing to do. Nevertheless, making sustainable change takes a lot of time and effort. But it’s worth it if you choose a meaningful project that will enrich both the community and yourself.

Volunteer. Learn. Make a positive change :-)