Last week there was International Volunteer Day, which raised awareness on how a community can come together and make a difference. Volunteering, whether in your community or abroad, is an act of goodness and every little bit helps. It is not right to discourage people from so-called ‘voluntourism’ of traveling abroad to volunteer, but instead encourage people to research the organisations they are volunteering with.
Volunteering is a win-win action. It helps a community in some way and it also builds your own character and gives you greater awareness, both internally and externally. If you’ve ever volunteered, you can understand that although the work can be hard, tedious or tiring, you can walk away completely satisfied with the work that was done. It’s actually a bit addictive as you grow more and more attached to the community, the more you involve yourself.
In the summer, J. K. Rowling came out against voluntourism at orphanages because it can break up families. These child institutions become a business as travelers come in to help for the experience. I agree that this is bad, but does it mean that volunteering abroad is bad altogether? Definitely not. It should be a lesson that’s in every handy guidebook for potential travelers on how to properly volunteer abroad. There are so many ways to help. You can build homes, go to women’s shelters, plant trees, clean up garbage and even go to orphanages. We just need to make sure that if we’re going with an organisation, that they are connected to the towns being visited and know how to not disrupt life or exploit their lives.
The problem isn’t with the people who want to help, want to learn and better understand the world, it’s with the unethical business practices taking place and teaching travelers how to avoid the scheme. No one wants to be counterproductive on these journeys, but the people need to know how to pick the right charity.
- The reader is a student based in Abu Dhabi.