Why you should volunteer, not 'voluntour'
More and more people want to spend their time abroad in a more meaningful way
Travelling to a new country for a week or two, getting to know the environment, the culture and its people, whilst also doing some good at a volunteer project, sounds really appealing. But does it make sense to combine both; holidays and volunteering? Before you go, it’s best to work out exactly what you want from a trip, and in some scenarios, it’s best to commit one of the two. Either make a meaningful impact through a longer time of volunteering, or look at having purely a holiday, depending on what you want out of the trip.
How does volunteering on holiday work?
“Voluntourism” is known as the combination of a holiday and a short volunteer project or assignment. At first glance, it looks a bit like flexible volunteering, but the key differences are the duration of participation and the preparation beforehand.
If the holiday is mixed with a short stay assignment in the likes of a relief project, the participants usually only stay a few days, without needing to have any specific prep course beforehand. As well as this, there’s no required documents, such as certificates of conduct, motivation letters, criminal background checks and more, which would normally ensure that the correct, skilled people are placed meaningfully. Sometimes, these above projects are supported only half of the time, or only a certain days, so it’s not a chance to make a more meaningful impact.
On the opposite side, volunteer work lasts from about 4 weeks, through to an entire year. You also go through an entire prep process, which include the likes of seminars, calls, codes of conduct and much more, all specifically designed for volunteering.
What are the negatives of volunteering whilst on holiday?
However, combining the two certainly brings problems. For a motivated volunteer, a short spell of a few days volunteering can bring more problems than a longer time at a project, and not just for themselves.
When it comes to social projects, we do not recommend any trips that are less than 4 weeks. In the likes of kindergartens and daycare centres, it’s really not good for the kids if their caregiver is constantly changing. A child forms important bonds at this influential age in their development, and if they form these links with people who leave every few days, it can seriously harm their development. It’s important to realise that these children are at the very heart of the project, and are not just a ‘fun few days’ in a wider holiday. For a volunteer to take on important and responsible tasks, it’s clear that more than a few days are needed to train up, get used to and then carry these roles out.
Another major problem is the difference between a volunteers expected standards, and what the actual poverty is in the project areas. These projects are here to help those that need it in areas that aren’t as well off, and without the correct prep process beforehand, this gap in standards can be tough, frustrating and lead to a so-called ‘culture shock’.
Unfortunately, providers of shorter term programmes often lack this preparation for volunteers, so most of their approach revolves around the ‘tourist’ aspect of the trip. Without it, it can be a mark on the holiday, and can negatively affect how areas are viewed. Our view, which is backed by experts, is that volunteering as a fully fledged volunteer, is much more preferred, due to it’s better, deeper and more meaningful impact that is has on the local community and volunteers themselves.
What to do if you still want to support a project on holiday?
The best approach is to look for volunteer projects where it still makes sense for a shorter involvement. Whether that’s working in ecological projects (you can never plant too many trees or get enough hands to help!) or helping with a craft project where you help through using your skills (maybe you’re a good carpenter for example!), there’s still ways you can contribute if you have less time.
But just be mindful to plan your time. If you’re volunteering, then you’re fully committed to it. If you can dedicate a week to it, then go all in and make a difference, then get to your holiday afterwards! Those who really get involved can have huge impacts on a local community, so make sure you keep your time separated.
Decided volunteering is for you?
If you’ve decided that volunteering is your calling for your next trip, then you’ll be in for an unforgettable experience, as will the people you’ll help. You’ll receive the correct prep, carefully selected projects and a support structure to ensure you can have the best possible experience.
RGV pays special attention to sending volunteers away in the best possible way. You’ll have loads of personal advice from one of our experts, based on the 19+ years experience we’ve been operating across Africa and Asia. We also have on-site RGV teams in every country we work in, so you’ll be secure in the knowledge you’ve got people there to help you settle and deal with any issues you may have.
Social projects are some of the most influential that can be offered, and as such, RGV ensure that all social programmes last an absolute minimum of 4 weeks, which can go up to anything near a year. Through this, you’ll have plenty of time to build up trust, get to know the project well and find your area to make an impact. We make sure that you are there to support, and therefore not take jobs from the local community.
We also do not work with orphanage projects to ensure we can help protect the children. We pay close attention and adhere to strict guidelines for every project for the protection of children. We also have our animal protection projects carefully checked to ensure they meet the required criteria. Whatever you decide to do, you can be assured that RGV ensure that you'll have an incredible experience, contributing to a project that is ethically run, and for the benefit of the local community.