Volunteering overseas has become 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, so if you are planning this type of trip you’ll want to make sure your money and time is wisely spent.
Volunteer programs abroad are advertised as a chance to make a real difference. It appears just like a win-win situation that benefits the community and also the volunteer. The catch is, overseas adventure travel aren’t always mutually beneficial. Poorly thought-out projects may well not benefit communities, which means well-meaning volunteers will find themselves in places where they’re not needed.
Organisations that send volunteers overseas have likewise become increasingly commercialised due to an influx of for-profit companies and travel agencies jumping on the volunteer tourism bandwagon. Some organisations spend the vast majority of a volunteer’s fee on administration, marketing and organisational costs rather than on in-country living costs and also the local project.
Volunteering abroad is 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 an important amount more than a backpacker. “Once [it’s] commodified like it is currently, you just get projects which can be put there for keen tourists to accomplish.”
Useful volunteering – Volunteer programs have the possibility to accomplish lots of good. But many times well-meaning volunteers have arrived at projects only to find their good intentions get wasted. A written report by UK think tank Demos in the year 2011 found that an important variety of volunteer tourists felt the task might have been carried out by locals and were unsure whether their voluntary work actually benefited the communities.
One reason behind this is that advertising may give volunteers an over-inflated sensation of their usefulness. Short trips are increasingly being designed to suit the benefit and motivations from the volunteer rather than the destination community.
But community involvement in planning the project is essential to the success. Projects that aren’t well considered and simply outsourced to local partners without close supervision or consideration of local needs and values will often be unhelpful. “A good company will spend a few years deciding how that project will almost certainly work,” says Wearing.
To obtain the right overseas volunteer opportunity, it’s essential to comprehend the complexities from the development landscape. Trips offering cultural training programs and inductions prior to really are a positive start.
Paying to volunteer overseas – Many overseas volunteer trips come with hefty price tags and will vary a lot. For two weeks’ volunteering in India, excluding flights, we found prices that ranged from about $300 as much as greater than $2000.
What exactly do you get to your volunteer fee? Few organisations are truly transparent about how exactly volunteer fees are spent. We asked 18 volunteer abroad providers for an average breakdown of where volunteers’ funds are spent but very few provided this.
From 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 invested in 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 how your funds are spent. Given that many volunteer abroad companies operate in a global environment, which Australian companies with an annual turnover of less than $25m generally aren’t needed to submit financials towards the corporate regulator, particulars on company profits are often not available.