If you're planning a volunteering trip, whether it's a 3 month volunteer placement in a remote corner of the world or a weekend somewhere closer to home, it's always good to know what to expect and the best way to do things. Our friends at people & places have helped us to write this guide on responsible volunteering.
We believe responsible volunteers are also the most effective – they work with the community in mutual respect, helping to achieve shared objectives, offering advice and encouragement, and increasing local people’s capacity to develop their own futures.
Responsible volunteers are more likely to be a positive presence, a source of inspiration and empowerment. Poorly prepared volunteers who impose their own agenda and cultural norms, failing to include local people in decisions, can leave behind more problems than they solve, making life even tougher for economically poor people. Let's start at the beginning – you're already committed to responsible travel and now you want to volunteer, but how can you be sure of being a responsible volunteer?
What do you want to achieve?
The first thing to think about is why do you want to volunteer, what do you want to achieve, where and when would you like to travel and for how long. Your honest answers to these and similar questions will establish an agenda to help you assess the numerous offers and alternatives.
Questions to consider should include:
Do I want to volunteer the whole time or do I want to have a holiday at the same time?
Do I want to help the local community or conservation?
Do I want to help in a specific way such as research, construction, teaching or more generally?
If you have a specific goal in mind such as building a house, renovating a school or hospital or teaching then you will probably need longer than two weeks. If you can only take a week or two off work then there are still plenty of options open to you. Try a taste of volunteering
Having asked yourself these questions, you’ll know a lot more about yourself and your motives, but you’re probably no further forward in deciding which volunteer organisations can help you to be as responsible as you want to be. There are so many to choose from: some are commercial; some are not-for-profit; some are charitable.
Whether commercial or charitable, there are good, not-so-good and downright irresponsible organisations, but their initial marketing makes it difficult if not impossible to differentiate. They invariably use the latest buzz words (ethical, meaningful, community, responsible) and therefore appear to be saying the right thing – which we naturally want to believe.
So, how can you be sure of choosing an organisation that will help you achieve your goals?
Choosing a volunteering organisation.
With so many volunteering organisations around these days, deciding which ones are responsible is a hefty task. There are plenty of independent resources which suggest questions for you to ask to help you develop your own criteria but to start with it’s good to ask some general questions first.
Questions could include
Where can I find your responsible tourism policy?
How much of my trip cost or donation goes into the host country and into projects there?
What work have previous volunteers achieved and what projects have been completed?
Have you had any research published? (especially important if they are involved in conservation volunteering)
But, as you asses their responses, if any of the following questions come to mind …
Why haven’t they asked more of me than my credit card number – don’t local people need to know about me and how I’ll work in the project?
Why are they reluctant to put me in touch with previous volunteers or local people – surely I need to understand where and how I fit into the bigger picture – or isn’t there one?
Why can’t they tell me how much of what I’m spending reaches my hosts – how do I know that my hosts are being fairly recompensed for their hospitality?
… we would suggest that it’s unlikely that the particular organisation can help you achieve your goals.
Once you’ve worked your way through this far, you’ll have a short-list of ‘good guys’ and most will have responsible travel policies. Through talking with previous volunteers or local people, you’ll be able to find out if the organisations actually do what they say they do – then make your choice and take responsibility for your decision!
Feel good about your choice, feel good about volunteering, feel good about the whole experience – and do all you can to ensure that you’re not the only one to feel good …then you’re well on the way to being a responsible volunteer.
We at responsibletravel.com have hundreds of volunteering opportunities
from leading volunteering organisations on our website. Whether you want to teach
, volunteer with children
and help with wildlife conservation
we will have a trip to suit you. All of the volunteering trips on our website have been carefully selected to meet our criteria and on each trip page you can read about how each holiday makes a difference to the local area and community.
Tempted to try voluntering for yourself? Why not check out our Volunteering holidays
With many thanks to Sallie and Kate from people and places: responsible volunteering