My past volunteering experiences have always been with organizations I either knew myself or I had good connections with. They were NGO, missionaries or even simple group of friends that had won my trust.
Few months back though, I started organizing a volunteering trip a bit different from the previous ones. The most difficult part so far has been finding a project that would treat volunteering honestly and seriously. .
I’m not saying the projects I checked were not serious. But many, too many of them consider volunteers like a business opportunity. This business, done at the expenses of the volunteers, has a name, it’s called “voluntourism”.
Volunteering or Voluntourism?
Voluntourism, volunteering-tourism, is defined as a recent trend, a travel style, usually international, linked to “doing good” as a part of the experience. It’s applicable to many different fields: from environmental programs to archeology, from animal care to social assistance. .
The volunteer leave full of good intentions, he pays a fee, he works, he participates to some local activities somehow pre-organized and goes back home satisfied of his experience and maybe also slightly shocked by some situations he had witnessed.
What’s wrong with this? In theory, absolutely nothing. The issue is that volunteering has been turned into a sort of touristic holiday. And like for any other kind of holiday, there are agencies and project that speculate on it. When volunteering turns into voluntourism, it becomes a money making machine, especially when the volunteers are exposed to harsh situation to push them to donate more. There are often tales of orphanages of children care centers visits with underfed, sad and half naked children, with flies all around and dirty noses.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s good, very good, to see certain life situations for us lucky birth lottery winners!
But a serious organization shows you transformation besides the need. It shows you the school that teaches the entire village bringing opportunities, the program that offers food to entire families, the children well dressed for the Sunday, the mum that has a new eggs stall at the market thanks to the hens she received. A serious organization shows you ”how it is now” compared to “how it was”. It shows you the potential in the future compared to “how it would have been”. And they do this also to demonstrate practically how they spend the donated money.
Considering the amount of money some agencies ask the volunteers to pay, I wonder: “But with all that I gave you for a single week, you really can’t buy a clean dress to these little ones?”.
Pay to work
I’ve found difficult to find a project that accepts volunteers on the field without asking for a fee. Or at least a fee proportioned to the local daily expenses.
With quick search on google you’ll find dozens of agencies specialized in connecting volunteers with projects that are needing volunteers. Those that work mainly with North Americans and Canadians are the most expensive. I’ve been asked even more than 500$ per week for room and board. And still the fee doesn’t includes visa, plane tickets, insurance and any other extra which are obviously all on me. Let’s do some math to put this amount into the right context: with my 500$ per week, in some countries, an entire family of 5 can easily survive for an entire month.
And I wonder how much of this “program fee” actually goes to the project I’d like to work for. Usually unknown.
Is volunteering only for the rich?
With voluntourism becoming the normality, it’s easy to have the impression that international volunteering is something only the rich can afford. But this is not the truth! Of course an international flight doesn’t come cheap! But if someone can have holidays in Thailand, then he should also be able to go as a volunteer. It should actually be a lot cheaper!
Volunteers with a good will are the victims here. And they don’t even realize it.
A serious project doesn’t ask for money to work. They might ask you a little reimbursement for the expenses, but we’re talking about a few dollars per day, or not even that. Enough to go to the market for your food, or to come to the airport to pick you up 5 hours away on an unpaved road.
November-December 2019: my volunteering in Uganda
At the beginning of November I’m going to Uganda. 40 African days. After Tanzania and Mozambique, this is my 3rd trip to the continent with the beautiful red soil!
I’m not going to talk in detail about the projects I ended up choosing for my volunteering trip, because I haven’t been there yet and my opinion can only be partial.
For now I can say that two Ugandan families are going to host me in exchange of English classes, children entertainment, IT support and other general and random tasks.
In this introductory page I explain a bit more about the places, the timeline and the volunteers. For the generous ones, there’s a fundraising too!
In the next few weeks I’m going to tell you more about how I’ve found Denis and Rachael, the leaders of the two projects I’m going to work for.
Follow me in Africa!