Volunteering overseas is becoming popular as a gap year placement, a different travel experience, or as a meaningful retirement activity. But you, the volunteer, will still foot the bill, so if you are planning this type of trip you’ll want to make sure your money and time is spent well.
Volunteer programs abroad are advertised as a chance to produce a real difference. It appears like a win-win situation that benefits the city and the volunteer. The catch is, overseas adventure travel aren’t always mutually beneficial. Poorly thought-out projects may not benefit communities, which means well-meaning volunteers will 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 nearly all a volunteer’s fee on administration, marketing and organisational costs as opposed to on in-country living costs and the local project.
Volunteering abroad is definitely the new backpacking, says Stephen Wearing, an associate professor on the University of Technology, Sydney, and specialist in volunteer tourism. But he adds that volunteers will have a tendency to pay an important amount more than a backpacker. “Once [it’s] commodified enjoy 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 a lot of good. But many times well-meaning volunteers have came to projects only to discover their good intentions get wasted. A study by UK think tank Demos in the year 2011 learned that an important number of volunteer tourists felt the work might have been carried out by locals and were unsure as to if their voluntary work actually benefited the communities.
One basis for this is that advertising may give volunteers an over-inflated sensation of their usefulness. Short trips are increasingly being created to suit the benefit and motivations in the volunteer instead of the destination community.
But community involvement in planning the project is essential to the success. Projects that aren’t well considered and just outsourced to local partners without close supervision or consideration of local needs and values will often be unhelpful. “An excellent company will spend a few years deciding how that project will work,” says Wearing.
To get the right overseas volunteer opportunity, it’s essential to understand the complexities in the development landscape. Trips offering cultural training programs and inductions just before really are a positive start.
Paying to volunteer overseas – Many overseas volunteer trips come with hefty costs and may vary a great deal. For two weeks’ volunteering in India, excluding flights, we found prices that ranged from about $300 up to more than $2000.
What do you obtain to your volunteer fee? Few organisations are truly transparent regarding how volunteer fees are spent. We asked 18 volunteer abroad providers to have an average breakdown of where volunteers’ funds are spent but only a few provided this.
From your organisations that did give us fee breakdowns, about half the volunteer fee went towards direct in-country living costs and projects. One other half was used on general administration, organising placements, implementation and monitoring of projects, volunteer recruitment and presumably some profit for that companies.
And each company fails their costs differently making it tough to know precisely the way your money is spent. Considering that many volunteer abroad companies function in a worldwide environment, and that Australian companies with an annual turnover of lower than $25m generally aren’t required to submit financials towards the corporate regulator, particulars on company profits tend to be not really available.