Afraid of Voluntourism?

GREAT article by the Philanthrobuzz blog – are people afraid of volunteering abroad? What are you doing on your website to ease those fears??

by Anis Salvesen

There’s a fabulous recent trend of people becoming really excited about volunteering.  However, there are still some of us who are sitting on the sidelines waiting for the perfect volunteer opportunity to come along before we jump in.

Recently I was baking cookies, and while they were in the oven becoming extra delicious, I decided to do a quick Google search on why people don’t volunteer.   Straight away, I came across a couple interesting links.

One was Top Ten Reasons to NOT Volunteer on Youthnoise.com.  It was a list that I suppose was meant to illustrate the lack of substance of most of our excuses for not volunteering.  Take, for example, reasons eight and nine:   9. I’m waiting for Spaceman Spinkeedoo to return from planet Zumar with the bag of cheese puffs he stole from me.   8. I’m counting the dust specks in the ray of light from my bedroom window.

Now, I have been guilty of coming up with some pretty creative excuses of my own in the past, but the one which I found deterred me the most was a fear of not liking the volunteer experience.  What if I volunteered at a soup kitchen and bumped into someone carrying a couple of pitchers of very hot coffee, and hot black liquid spilled all over that person and me and someone walking by?  What if after colliding with the coffee server I then slipped on the caffeinated liquid and pulled the person who tried to help me stand upright down too?  This sounds rather far-fetched, but I should tell you that I was one of the clumsiest people in college.  I managed to make myself bleed with a gummy worm and hit a tree trunk with the roof of my car without flipping the vehicle over.  Yes, I was that clumsy.

But what about most people?  Did anyone else share my fear of a bad experience?  In conducting my quick Google search, I did notice that at least a couple of sources also mentioned this fear of a bad volunteer experience tarnishing future efforts to volunteer.  It makes sense, but there’s something else I should add.   Actually, I’ll just paint a quick scenario.

Okay.  So say you decide you want to volunteer somewhere.   You know you want to go abroad, and you know you want to work with children.  So you go to http://www.universalgiving.org because you read our blog, and you like our site, and you select “children” as your focus area.  You get 168 results, and you’re really excited because you find a great project with a fantastic organization, and you know it’s fully vetted, or that organization wouldn’t be on our site.  So you get any vaccines you need, and you hop on a plane.  You get there, and then you realize that the two most obnoxious volunteers in the entire world are your new roommates.

Is this a perfect volunteer experience?  No.  Does it mean you’re not going to volunteer ever again?   Hopefully the answer is also a “no.”   Those two crazy volunteers may have driven you insane, but at least they make a good story.  They might even be fodder for that book you’ve been thinking of writing.

What I’m getting at is that even if one volunteer experience is far from perfect, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again.  Last time we went camping, my husband and I had no tent, so we “slept” in the car with a puppy that refused to stop barking at the dog in the next camp site.  My husband burned himself making dinner, and in the morning he awoke to realize he had a really bad flu.  Our speedometer stopped working minutes after we got on the road to head home – this was after I awoke the entire campground by stepping on the gas instead of on the brake pedal on our way out.   We took a one hour detour to see a lighthouse that we ended up not actually being able to see because of the thickest fog ever, and then we narrowly missed hitting a cow that decided to wander onto the road.

We’re hoping to go camping again in August.  I hope if you’ve had a bad volunteer experience that you also try again.  Thanks for reading this blog post!

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2 thoughts on “Afraid of Voluntourism?

  1. We are so glad you asked. 🙂
    Obviously we can’t control all the factors involved
    in your volunteer experience, but we can certainly get you off to a great start.
    First of all, we help you locate a volunteer opportunity that would be exciting and a good fit, by having a search function to facilitate your sorting through 297 international volunteer opportunities. You can search by focus area (children, education, microfinance, etc.) and/or by country or world region.

    Secondly, and perhaps more important as far as assuaging any lingering fears, we fully vet each of the charities that one can access through our site. We actually have a trademarked QualityModel which is quite rigorous. Each charity we feature has to pass this test.

    Lastly, we provide you, through our blog and via our Twitter account and through our CEO Pamela Hawley’s blog, inspiring stories that will help motivate you to join others and volunteer.

    Thank you so much for your very relevant question. We really, really appreciate your participation in our community and hope to hear from you in the future.

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