Feel Good Holiday: Voluntourism and the Art of Seeing the World
Though the economy might be in a tailspin, it’s not getting any cheaper to travel. Airlines are hiking up airfare, and hostels aren’t the great bargain they used to be. Many people are looking for unique ways to see the world without spending loads of dough. For those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty, voluntourism is a way to travel, gain some great experiences and save a good deal of money along the way.
Voluntourism is exactly what it sounds like: volunteering and tourism smashed together into one beautiful whole. In exchange for your help, programs will offer you the opportunity to see a whole new part of the world, not to mention experience it in an intimate way. Many programs will cover living expenses while you’re working with them, and others will even pay for travel expenses as well.
Whether you’ve got a specific skill set to share (you’re an expert in viticulture or a computer guru) or you’re just interested in lending a helping hand, there’s an organization that’s looking for you. Geekcorps, for instance, is a volunteer program that places experts from the IT industry in communities to help foster digital independence. Volunteers live and work in one of the project countries (primarily Mali, Ghana and Lebanon) from one to six months. Travel and living expenses are covered, and participants also receive a small stipend. Other programs, however, don’t require anything from you but a willingness to work.
Before you embark on any voluntourism project, you’ll want to make sure that it’s something you really want to do and that you’re prepared both mentally and emotionally for the experience. If you’re mostly just interested in skiing and eating at gourmet restaurants or are just looking for a way to pad your resume, for instance, voluntourism might not be for you. Keep in mind that there is a work component to any project.
Assess your capabilities honestly to determine whether you’ll be a good fit for a program. You’ll also want to ask yourself some hard questions, like whether you’ll be able to handle living in an extremely impoverished community, what sort of accommodations you require as a minimum and how much money you’re willing to spend.
If you like the idea of doing a volunteer trip overseas but still don’t have the funds to make it work, think about fundraising for your trip. Most of the programs that cover room and board and sometimes even flights require a significant time investment or specialized skills and experience. If you’d like to voluntour for a shorter period of time, ask employers, schools, community organizations, family and friends for financial support for your trip. And don’t forget to ask at your local Lions Club, Optimist Club or Rotary Club, as they often support this kind of work.
Interested in voluntouring, but don’t know where to start?
Here are some great resources for finding opportunities around the world:
Se7en is a list of free and nearly-free global volunteer opportunities from wildlife conservation in Guatemala to building a theater in the Israeli desert. Once you find a host you’d like to work with, you contact them directly to arrange a project – conversely, you can also list your skills on the site so that project operators can contact you! For the most part, these projects exchange volunteer time for room and board. Volunteers must pay their own transportation costs or a small fee to participate in some projects. Registration costs 15€ for 2 years.
Hands Up Holidays ranks their tours by activity level and comfort level, so if you’re not quite up to draining ponds in the Sunderbans Jungle Camp in Bali, you can always help prepare a meal for animals in a Costa Rican reserve before your afternoon massage. Hands Up organizes well-structured luxury trips with a volunteer component.
Idealist lists both employment and volunteer opportunities domestically and abroad. The time commitment and variety of each of these opportunities is extremely varied, but Idealist has an easy-to-use filter function to narrow down your search results. Each volunteer opportunity supports a different cause, from being a volunteer doula in Seattle, Washington for six months to being a Habitat for Humanity Global Village Team Member in Nicaragua.
ACDI/VOCA looks for experienced professionals with a knowledge of business, banking and finance, marketing, agriculture, food processing or community development in addition to other project-specific skills to work on economic development projects around the world. These assignments are usually between two and four weeks long, and the organization covers all project-related expenses.
Go Voluntourism allows you to search for opportunities by country, type of project, time commitment required, cost or accommodation provided. They also offer a consultation service to help you find the perfect volunteering match, whether it’s teaching English in Malawi or working on an organic farm in Vietnam. Registration is required to see the listings, but there’s no fee to register.
Winrock International is a non-profit organization whose goal is to build economic prosperity and civil empowerment while at the same time encouraging sustainable resource use and environmental protection. Locations include South America, Africa, and Asia. Most assignments last two to three weeks, and the organization covers travel expenses and provides a small stipend for volunteers.