Sick of sipping mojitos poolside? Want to develop your altruistic potential? Then voluntourism may be for you! Voluntourism or “experiential travel” is one of the fastest growing sectors in the travel market. It ticks all the boxes; it allows tourists to promote giving values, experience a lifestyle change and absorb local culture through active interaction.
The number of companies offering volunteer programs overseas is rapidly growing. But there is often a problem on the ground, with an increasing number of organisations struggling to provide quality experiences that are not intrusive or disruptive to the local communities. Worse, some volunteer projects take jobs away from locals.
There are countless stories online from volunteers who have felt trapped, exploited and exploitative. The last thing anyone wants is to pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of digging toilets for people who don’t need them.
Finding the right travel provider and project is key. When she decided to take extended leave from her job as a TV production manager, she booked her placement thru a UK-based not-for-profit organisation called Globalteer. Robyn says that anyone considering volunteer placements should ensure that the organisation is a registered charity and that the financial records are available and fully transparent.
Robyn recommends that would-be voluntourists think about their strengths and what they can offer the locals that will allow them to develop their own skill set. “As a volunteer teacher, you can't expect to change the world overnight or to make a huge impact on these children's lives but a little bit of help can go a very long way,” she says.
Emotionally, the experience can also be very demanding. Though she is inspired by the kids’ passion for learning, Robyn says she is also heartbroken everyday when she hears their tales of hardship and struggles. So potential volunteers should know their limitations; be realistic about whether they can handle the emotional challenges, extreme weather conditions, physical activity and the language barriers.
Of her time in Cambodia, Robyn says: “Volunteering is a rewarding and challenging experience, the kids I work with all come from poor families, many of them can't afford to go to public school so this is the only education they are receiving. They are an enthusiastic group of kids, their smiles and hugs are priceless. Without a doubt this experience is one of the best things I have ever done in my life and the friendships I have established with these children will be cherished forever.""
Original article posted in 'the vine' Australia