“Let your vision be world embracing, rather than confined to your own self” Baha’u’llah
People choose to volunteer for a wide range of reasons. Some volunteer as a way of ‘giving something back’. Many do so because they want to involve themselves in a project close to their heart. Others volunteer to immerse themselves in local community whilst travelling. Then there are those who volunteer to gain experience or learn a particular skill.
Although the type of volunteering that comes to mind most often is of the altruistic variety, there are many kinds of volunteering, most of which are beneficial to both parties.
Not All Volunteer Programmes Cost the Earth
A major misconception is that all volunteering is expensive. In fact, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Although there are an abundance of extremely costly volunteer programmes out there, there are also a great many which are either cheap or free, and are consequently more suitable for the backpacker or long-term traveller.
The Dark Side of Volunteerism
Paying large amounts of money to volunteer can, in fact, sometimes contribute to the darker side of ‘volunteerism’. Volunteering has indeed become big business. There have been reports that wealthy volunteers, who are known to pay thousands of dollars for placements, prevent local people from securing much needed jobs. Additionally, it is known that certain orphanages are kept in deliberate squalor in order to attract attention from well-heeded tourists.
Additionally, in certain cases, children in orphanages, are not, in fact, orphans. The well-meaning tourist, with a little cash to spare, is an easy target and is someone to lay the guilt trip on. There are apparently many cases where the middle man is making big bucks, and very little money is going to the people, animals or projects that are in dire need.
Approaching projects directly to ascertain the situation or going through agents which are free or only charge a minimal amount is the best way to go. Many organisations charge a basic amount for accommodation and food, which seems fair enough. Indeed, it does seem a somewhat strange situation when you are offering your time, skills and effort to a cause and additionally have to cough up hundreds, even thousands of dollars for the privilege!
Choosing Where to Volunteer
Having said that, if you prefer to pay for a volunteer placement, there are many reputable companies to choose from. Ensure that you research the organisation thoroughly, so you can be secure in the knowledge that your money is going where it should be. The advantage of a paid placement with a bona fide company is that they will provide support throughout your assignment. If it is your first long-term trip abroad or you lack confidence, you may feel more comfortable with a certain amount of guidance and support.
When you are researching volunteer opportunities, good sources to explore are guide books, online forums, general online searches and enquiring locally.
Free and Low Cost Volunteering Opportunities
Volunteer South America
It’s worth checking out Volunteer South America, a website which cuts out the middleman and offers free or low cost opportunities in South America.
WWOOFING (willing workers on organic farms) is a great choice for anyone remotely interested in organic lifestyles, gardening or farming. No skills are needed, so the potential to learn is great. Not only do farms accept WWOOFERS, but so do schools, small holdings, country estates and various communities. You could be involved in anything from making wine, soap or jam to animal care. There are 98 countries who have WWOOFING organisations. Initially, you pay a fee to the organisation whose country you are interested in WWOOFING in, and you receive a list of hosts which you can choose from. For an agreed amount of work a day, you receive food and accommodation. You could WOOF your way round a country, or even the world.
CampAmerica arranges placements in the USA for young people at summer camps and in other seasonal positions. Your flights, accommodation and food are covered. On completion of your assignment, you receive ‘pocket money’. Ku taught tennis for a couple of seasons at a summer camp in Pennsylvania and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Workaway and HelpX
Workaway and HelpX are similar to one another. You pay an annual fee and can apply to any of the worldwide hosts listed on their websites. Volunteers help out for a few hours a day in exchange for a bed and meals, and an opportunity to learn skills and become part of the local community. You could be working at a resort, hostel, farm, retreat, campsite……..whatever appeals.
Volunteering can be an excellent way to contribute to worthy causes, offer skills, learn skills, meet people and integrate into the local community. It also gives the traveller an insight into local culture that wouldn’t be possible if you were just passing through.
Benefits of Volunteering
- It’s a ‘hands on’ way to help people, animals or the environment.
- It can be a great way to learn new skills.
- You can make use of your own skills in a practical and rewarding way.
- You have the opportunity to become immersed in a local community and meet people you wouldn’t normally encounter.
- Volunteers gain a more worldly perspective.
- It makes you feel good!