How to Volunteer Abroad Ethically: Avoiding Scams and Making a Real Impact

Updated for 2024

In 2014, an eye-opening article by Pippa Biddle shed light on the negative impact of voluntourism and the need for ethical volunteering abroad. While volunteering with good intentions is admirable, it is crucial to ensure that your efforts actually make a meaningful and sustainable impact on the communities you aim to serve.

At Tips Tree Planting, we believe in promoting responsible and ethical volunteering practices. In this article, we will guide you on how to select the right volunteer abroad program, manage your expectations, read reviews, and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

The Importance of Ethical Volunteering

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Pippa Biddle’s article highlighted the issue of unskilled voluntourists attempting to solve complex societal problems. While their intentions are good, they often lack the necessary expertise to provide long-term solutions. This realization led Pippa to shift her approach and work with highly-skilled volunteers who can truly make a difference.

At Tips Tree Planting, we support Pippa’s perspective on ethical volunteering. Our focus is on connecting volunteers with meaningful projects and promoting sustainability in the communities they serve. By engaging with programs that prioritize local empowerment and long-term solutions, volunteers can make a real impact.

Selecting the Right Volunteer Abroad Program

When choosing a volunteer abroad program, it’s essential to narrow down your options and select organizations that are committed to sustainable impact. Look for projects that have received recognition, awards, or positive reviews.

For example, GoEco is a reputable organization that offers a wide range of projects worldwide. Their dedication to high standards and numerous awards make them a trusted choice for volunteers.

Maximo Nivel, Projects Abroad, African Impact, and Global Vision International are other excellent organizations that have received recognition for their work. These organizations prioritize the impact they make in the communities they serve and offer a variety of projects to suit different interests and skill sets.

Remember to ask questions before committing to a program. Inquire about a typical day for volunteers, speak to past volunteers, and understand how your fee will be utilized. By gathering all the necessary information, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your goals and values.

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Managing Expectations and Avoiding Pitfalls

It’s crucial to manage your expectations when volunteering abroad. Many well-intentioned volunteers believe they will have a significant impact on the communities they work with. However, the reality is that short-term volunteering often has limitations in creating long-term change.

Daniela Papi’s TEDxOxbridge talk emphasizes the importance of long-term development and the need for sustainable solutions. While short-term programs can offer valuable experiences, volunteers must reevaluate their expectations and understand the broader context of their work.

Sallie Grayson’s article on common pitfalls in volunteering provides valuable insights. She encourages volunteers to ask questions, avoid assuming complete transparency from organizations, and be realistic about their skills and limitations. By staying informed and managing expectations, volunteers can ensure a more meaningful and rewarding experience.

The Power of Reviews

Reviews play a crucial role in choosing a reputable volunteer abroad program. They provide insights into the experiences of past volunteers and help separate legitimate organizations from scams. Websites like Volunteer Forever offer verified reviews from volunteers who have completed the entire volunteering process.

Rachel Lewis emphasizes the importance of seeking out volunteer reviews to find the exact program that suits your needs. By reading reviews and testimonials, you can gain a better understanding of an organization’s commitment to ethical practices and responsible volunteering.

Skillsets and Proper Conduct

It’s essential to assess your skillset and expertise before volunteering abroad. While not all projects require highly-specialized skills, it’s important to be appropriately qualified for the work you will be undertaking.

For example, medical volunteering should prioritize observation rather than hands-on medical care. Organizations like International Service Learning and VIDA Volunteer Travel ensure that medical volunteers work under the supervision of licensed healthcare practitioners and within established healthcare infrastructures.

Similar standards apply to other projects, such as teaching English or participating in construction projects. Always assess your capabilities and determine if you have the necessary skills and training for the role you will be fulfilling.

The Issue with Orphanage Volunteer Programs

Volunteering in orphanages has become a popular sector in the volunteer travel industry. However, it is essential to approach these programs with caution. Many children presented as orphans are not actually without families. Unscrupulous operators exploit well-meaning volunteers, leading to the exploitation and neglect of vulnerable children.

If you are interested in working with children, consider long-term programs like VE Global that provide adequate training and guidance. Alternatively, focus on providing professional services in fields such as healthcare, engineering, or education. By carefully selecting programs and researching their impact, you can avoid perpetuating harmful practices.

Making a Real Impact

Volunteering abroad can be a life-changing experience when done responsibly and ethically. By selecting a reputable organization, managing your expectations, and evaluating your skills, you can make a positive impact on the communities you serve.

Remember, volunteering is not just about receiving; it is about giving back and creating sustainable change. At Tips Tree Planting, we encourage volunteers to approach their experiences with humility, respect, and a genuine desire to make a difference. Together, let’s work towards building a better world through responsible volunteering.

P.S. If you’re still looking for a volunteer opportunity, check out our list of best volunteer abroad programs and recommended projects. You can also explore options such as medical and veterinary volunteer projects, dental volunteer programs, teaching abroad opportunities, internships, and more. Regardless of the program you choose, remember that every little bit helps when it is done responsibly and with a commitment to long-term impact.

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