Many people like the idea of traveling to experience different cultures, see the sites, explore places completely different than home, and enjoy themselves in general. I love all these aspects of travel too, and I think doing these things makes me a happier, more well-rounded person. I also like to get out of my comfort zone every once in a while to help me appreciate all that I have as one of the lucky people in the world who happened to have won the ovarian lottery. Intellectually I always know that I have it really good, but it hits home much more deeply, especially while traveling in developing countries, when I see how so many of the have-nots live and how difficult their lives can be.
And when I visit these places I know that the money I spend there helps their economies, and hopefully it helps at least some of the people who live in less than ideal conditions in those places. However, I also know that I can do more to help if I want to and if I make the effort. As at least some of you already know voluntourism has been growing rapidly over the last several years, and along with helping less fortunate people around the world it has also added another dimension to tourism, one that can help give you a deeper, more meaningful travel experience.
Now, in no way do I claim to be someone who is an expert on this subject, and I realize that some of you know quite a bit more about it than I do. I have personally participated in only a few different voluntourism projects so far. But even though I have a fairly limited experience in this form of travel, I thought I’d talk about it for those of you who may be interested in at least hearing something about it.
First of all voluntourism comes in many shapes and forms from what I can tell. As far as size, there are massive organizations like Global Volunteers which has mobilized over 27,000 volunteers on projects on six continents since 1984 and is affiliated with the United Nations and UNICEF. However the size of the organization can also be as small as a one-person operation, like the one I stumbled upon and worked with in a town in Laos about five years ago that was building a small library for the local kids.
And then there is everything in between. For instance my girlfriend has been very active for years with an organization based in Austin called The Miracle Foundation which works with orphanages in India. It was started by Caroline Bourdreaux about 10 years ago after having visited that country and seeing some of the terrible conditions so many of those children were living in. And now people from all walks of life go on organized trips to these orphanages to work with the children and experience firsthand the developmental efforts of the foundation.
If you are interested in learning more about what opportunities are out there for this kind of travel you might start off with browsing through a few sites like VolunTourism.org and Idealist.org. The possibilities for helping out while you are on a trip are virtually endless, and you can choose to be as much or as little hands-on as you’d like. Even if you were to do something as small as offer to fill any extra baggage space with much needed supplies for an organization when going on a trip could help them enormously, especially since international shipping can be so incredibly expensive for already stretched budgets. And you don’t even necessarily have to leave your own country to participate in a worthwhile endeavor.
One last thing to mention also though is that unfortunately not all of these charitable organizations are as scrupulous and transparent as we would like them to be. So you need to be careful when selecting which program or programs you would like to possibly work with. One good place I’ve found to help you with the vetting process is the Evaluate Charities section of GiveSpot.com. If you are going to be generous with your time and or your money you may as well try to help ensure that your generosity is appropriately taken advantage of.
Anyway, this post has been a little different than my previous ones, but I hope that at least some of you found it interesting and possibly useful. From what little volunteer work I have done so far while traveling I can say that it has very much been a positive experience for me, one that made for deeper, more enriching personal journeys. On a few sections of my upcoming trip to Asia this fall, I will be do some little stints of voluntouring with The Miracle Foundation , ANSWER and Friends of Maiti Nepal. I am not at ALL trying to paint myself as some saint, because there will be plenty of purely pleasurable, self-indulgent parts of my trip as well. But I wanted to at least bring up the aspect of voluntourism and traveling with a purpose, because I genuinely believe they help me just as much if not more than those that I intend to help in whatever limited way that I can.
Do any of you have any thoughts or suggestions on voluntourism that you would like to share?
May your travels go well!