Volunteering is one of the most rewarding experiences you could ever have. It connects you to a new country, culture and community and allows you to feel like you’re making a difference; satisfying the altruistic urges we all have. The issue with everything I’ve just outlined; it’s all about you, the volunteer.
That does not mean volunteering is bad and there are definitely benefits for the charity and community that you volunteer in, it just means that before you volunteer you must:
- Ensure you’re volunteering for the right reasons; and
- Understand the impact your contribution is going to have on the community you’re trying to help.
To help you with this process, we’ve outlined each step below.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
STEP 1: UNDERSTAND YOUR REASONS
By virtue, you want to volunteer because you genuinely want to make a positive difference. It is however incredibly important to be realistic about your expectations, skills and goals. A good way to do this is to ask yourself these simple questions before you volunteer:
When answering these questions be honest with yourself. You should not feel bad if you wish to derive benefit from a volunteering experience. Being frank with yourself will guide the decisions you make and this awareness will help you find a program that best uses your skills, fulfils your goals, and delivers the most benefit to community you’re volunteering in.
STEP 2: UNDERSTAND YOUR IMPACT
Most of the time, the issue isn’t the volunteer. Like everything, where there is demand, there are people willing to take advantage of the opportunities that demand presents. Right now volunteering is trendy, it’s a $3 billion industry and unfortunately, opportunists are taking advantage of this trend.
Don’t believe me, Google “Siem Riep orphanage volunteer” or “fraudulent orphanages”. You’ll find hundreds of reports of orphanages who rent children. They’ve figured out that renting children from their parents costs less than the donations tourist and volunteers pay; they’ve created a profitable business. Worse, often legitimate orphans are forced to live in unsanitary conditions because this pulls at the heart-strings and brings in more donations.
Unfortunately, these are not isolated instances, you’ll find hundreds of examples online if you do your research.
To save you time, we’ve compiled a list of questions that you can ask to ensure you make an informed decision, have a sustainable and positive impact on the community you are supporting and enjoy your volunteering experience.
We know this might all sound complicated or daunting. Don’t let these questions scare you, awareness of them places the power in your hands and being a responsible volunteer is neither time consuming or difficult. Simply send these questions to the organisation you are looking to volunteer with, ask them to answer them; this is something they should easily be able to do and if they can’t, it might be a sign that they are not a good fit for you.
The most important thing to establish is, does the project you are going to volunteer at, empower local people to solve local issues? If it does not, your volunteering experience is unlikely to make a meaningful or sustainable impact.
Too many organisations take advantage of volunteers and developing communities and unfortunately the only way to stop this is for you to be a responsible volunteer and vote with your feet. When you do, you’ll find that you have the power to make a sustainable impact, not only on the lives of the people and communities you aim to help, but also on your own.