Volunteering overseas is becoming popular as a gap year placement, a different travel experience, or as a meaningful retirement activity. However, you, the volunteer, will still foot the bill, in case you’re planning this kind of trip you will want to make sure your time and money is wisely spent.
Volunteer programs abroad are advertised as the opportunity to make a real difference. It sounds like a win-win situation that benefits the neighborhood and the volunteer. The catch is, volunteer abroad aren’t always mutually beneficial. Poorly thought-out projects may well not benefit communities, which means well-meaning volunteers can find themselves in places where they’re not needed.
Organisations that send volunteers overseas have also become increasingly commercialised because of an influx of for-profit companies and travel agencies jumping on the volunteer tourism bandwagon. Some organisations spend the majority of a volunteer’s fee on administration, marketing and organisational costs as opposed to on in-country living costs and the local project.
Volunteering abroad will be the new backpacking, says Stephen Wearing, an associate professor in the University of Technology, Sydney, and specialist in volunteer tourism. But he adds that volunteers will have a tendency to pay a significant amount over a backpacker. “Once [it’s] commodified want it is currently, you merely get projects which are put there for keen tourists to accomplish.”
Useful volunteering – Volunteer programs have the potential to accomplish plenty of good. But many times well-meaning volunteers have reached projects only to discover their good intentions be wasted. A report by UK think tank Demos this year found that a significant number of volunteer tourists felt the job could have been done by locals and were unsure as to whether their voluntary work actually benefited the communities.
One reason behind this really is that advertising can provide volunteers an over-inflated sensation of their usefulness. Short trips are increasingly being made to suit the convenience and motivations of the volunteer rather than the destination community.
But community involvement in planning the project is vital to its success. Projects that aren’t well designed and just outsourced to local partners without close supervision or consideration of local needs and values are frequently unhelpful. “A good company will spend a couple of years deciding how that project is going to work,” says Wearing.
To find the right overseas volunteer opportunity, it’s vital that you understand the complexities of the development landscape. Trips that provide cultural training programs and inductions prior to really are a positive start.
Paying to volunteer overseas – Many overseas volunteer trips have hefty costs and will vary a whole lot. For just two weeks’ volunteering in India, excluding flights, we found prices that ranged from about $300 approximately a lot more than $2000.
What do you get for the volunteer fee? Few organisations are truly transparent about how exactly volunteer fees are spent. We asked 18 volunteer abroad providers to have an average breakdown of where volunteers’ funds are spent but not many provided this.
Through the organisations that did give to us fee breakdowns, about half the volunteer fee went towards direct in-country living costs and projects. One other half was spent on general administration, organising placements, implementation and monitoring of projects, volunteer recruitment and presumably some profit for the companies.
And every company stops working their costs differently making it hard to know exactly the way your money is spent. Considering that many volunteer abroad companies operate in an international environment, which Australian companies with an annual turnover of less than $25m generally aren’t needed to submit financials for the corporate regulator, information on company profits are frequently simply not available.