“Voluntourism” refers to the industry that sells “volunteering vacations”; the type where people travel in order to serve others. For the people who participate in voluntourism, the appeal is very clear: you get to do good for others while also seeing the world. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with either of those desires, the voluntourism industry unfortunately does have some negative effects.
One negative effect of voluntourism is that it can take jobs away from native people in the community. For example, when a group of volunteers go to a community to build a school for free, they’re doing the work that people in the actual community could be doing, which would be better for their economy.
This leads into another negative effect voluntourism: sometimes the good-hearted volunteers don’t exactly know what they’re doing, or they don’t know the best way to accomplish the tasks they set out to do. Because not all volunteers receive proper training before they leave, the work they do does more harm than good for the community they wish to serve.
Another negative aspect of voluntourism is its exploitative nature; not only to the potential travellers, but to those being served. The voluntourism industry is not above using and abusing people to create fabricated “opportunities” for tourists to give service and money.
While voluntourism has its downfalls, I don’t think that travelling abroad to serve is all bad. I think when it’s done correctly, skilled people can share their talents with others in need, lives can be improved, and the volunteers themselves can have their eyes opened to new perspectives. I do believe, however, that those who wish to volunteer should seriously consider a few things before they decide to travel. A few considerations include:
1. Serious volunteering should be left to well-trained, committed volunteers who volunteer through legitimate groups. I appreciate the goodness of the people who want to help out, but if they’re interested in volunteering because they get to go on vacation, they’re doing it for the wrong reason.
2. People could donate money to legitimate charities and nonprofits. While it is a less direct way to help out, giving money is always an appreciated gesture.
3. Those who want to volunteer could consider doing so in their own communities. There are undoubtedly dozens of organizations who would love to have a helping hand and working in your own community is just as meaningful and rewarding as working abroad.
There are many good alternatives that may be more helpful than volunteering abroad in some cases. On the other hand, if done with care and foresight, volunteering abroad could be a helpful, meaningful experience for those involved. Whatever you choose to do, research carefully beforehand and make sure that you’re helping the people you wish to serve, not hurting them.