Volunteer travel is a unique way to see the world. It’s also a great way to take home from your travels so much more than just snapshots and souvenirs. Voluntourism is, perhaps, the latest branch of ecotourism, but the two still differ markedly.
Whereas the former seeks to make a positive mark on the places it allows people to visit, the latter seeks to simply minimise its impact. You could say that one tries to talk and engage with its destination whilst the other seeks to shrink into the background.
Voluntourism allows people from all walks of life to contribute to making an exceptional difference to the life of communities, or the environment of destinations, all over the world. It does this in a safe, responsible and supported way. Volunteers can enjoy an exciting travel adventure abroad while they learn new skills and engage in vitally important environmental and community projects.
There are endless opportunities for voluntourism in far-flung locations across the globe. You can choose to volunteer on projects involving teaching, care work, community initiatives, medical schemes, archaeological digs, conservation, human rights, business, journalism and many other fields. You can also choose to volunteer from as little as two weeks up to several months.
As a volunteer you will engage with a local community in a unique way and often live with local families. You will get to see a side to their life that is completely inaccessible to the average tourist who simply passes through rather than pitches in.
What volunteers say
Specialists, such as Projects Abroad, have been offering opportunities for volunteers for more than 20 years, so you can be sure of the validity of the organisations they work with and can hear from former volunteers about the experiences they’ve had.
One thing that clearly comes through from stories told by volunteers is that no matter how much they gave to the work they did they still felt that they’d taken home even more. Without even including the benefits to the projects and communities you work with, here are some of the benefits for you.
A sense of balance
One of the more obvious benefits of volunteering is the chance to do something to help a cause, place or people you feel passionately about. For some it may simply be a sense that they are very fortunate to live the way they do and a chance to give something back to society as a way of balancing the scales.
As a regular tourist there is only so much you can see or do. You are unlikely to be able to care for young lion cubs in South Africa, live with nomads in Mongolia or join an archaeological dig on Inca sites in Peru.
Volunteering is a great way to develop new skills, try out a new field, gain experience in an area of work and make your CV stand out from the crowd. Picking up a language is also a fortunate by-product of spending time abroad with a local community. In fact, many volunteer projects will build in time for you to learn the local language.
As a volunteer you are never alone. You will meet and befriend locals but also work closely in an international community of volunteers. With new friends all over the globe you’ll have your next few holidays already wrapped up!
See the world differently
The voluntourist has the unique opportunity to see the world in a different way. After their adventure they are also likely to see the world differently, having learnt how others live and really experienced a culture and place rather than just scratched its surface.
Why I chose to volunteer abroad
Student article from the Guardian
Explore this useful resource on all things voluntourism
The benefits of volunteering
Consider the many benefits of volunteering
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