Volunteering abroad seems like the best of both worlds: You get to travel the world, while also feeling like you’re helping others. That’s what I thought, too, when I went on a volunteer trip to a special-needs orphanage in Peru, near Machu Picchu.
However, I can now say with confidence that these kinds of trips aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. The volunteer tourism industry is worth billions of dollars, and the volunteer companies involved are profiting off of the volunteers while also making them believe that they are necessary.
It Hurts the Communities
When volunteers flock to a country to help, citizens of those countries will often forgo health insurance. Why? Because they know volunteers are bound to come in and help out for free. This is an incredibly dangerous situation and leaves the citizens relying on volunteers 100 percent.
Money Is Going to the Wrong Place
Volunteer trips with for-profit agencies can run into the thousands for a two-week trip. Instead of spending $2,000 on a volunteer trip where none of the money is going back into the community, put your dollars straight to work with reputable organizations. There are plenty of organizations (like Doctors Without Borders) that have experienced and qualified people on the ground, working full-time in these communities.
Not Doing It for the Right Reasons
Don’t get me wrong, I love helping. But, it’s certainly more alluring to go on a volunteer trip when you can tell all your friends and family back home how much you’re helping out, right? To this day, I have so much shame for taking photos with the children and posting these photos on Facebook. I feel like I didn’t do enough even to earn the right to take any kind of photo, let alone of the children. These children are not a tourist attraction.
More on Volunteering: How to Be an Awesome Human Being — Without Spending a Dollar
Some Work Is Even Unnecessary
Many volunteer organizations love to give the idea that volunteers are helping and that they are necessary for communities in need. However, lots of the jobs these organizations have volunteers doing are not needed. The jobs are created to give the illusion that good is being done. And this illusion helps volunteer companies profit off of the volunteers.
Taking Away Jobs
Volunteers think they are doing good by working on special projects, but little do they know, they are taking away jobs. Though I believed I was of great help at that orphanage, I cannot help but think I took someone else’s job that needed it way more than I did. The leaders of the orphanage had to spend a lot of time training and overseeing us, too, which meant they had less time for their own work. It wasn’t even a worthwhile investment on their part, as I left after just a few short weeks.
My Advice to You
If you do decide to go on a volunteer trip, I believe you should do diligent research first. Find a reputable company that is not profiting off volunteers. Seeking out an ethical volunteer organization may take some extra work, but it is worth it for the community you visit. Learn from my mistakes and make responsible decisions when trying to help others.
Read More: How I Make My Money Match My Morality
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