There’s a recurring conversation that I tend to have with friends. It starts with me saying something like,
“Hey, let’s go to Cambodia (Sri Lanka, Argentina, Tibet, Russia–wherever)!”
“Cambodia?” they say, “That’d be so cool.”
“Let’s go then,” I say.
“When? For how long?” They smile; their eyes shift away a little.
“2 months,” I say, “at least!”
“I can’t.” Inevitably, ‘I can’t.’ I’m stuck in this lease. I have this job. This car payment. This furniture. This stuff. What would I do with all this stuff?!
To be honest, when people ask me why I started Voluntrippin, I usually give them the easy answer: Have you ever typed ‘volunteer abroad’ into a search engine? These programs charge thousands of dollars to volunteer. It’s absurd. The less-given answer is a little more complicated… I want to facilitate the connection of people, the incidence of life-changing experiences. And in interacting with people from a culture that is foreign, you will have life-changing experiences, because you’ll cease to see your home culture in the same way. Then you think about the things you do at home, the life paths that you follow. And maybe you’ll start to wonder if you’re only choosing something because you were made to believe that it was one of a select handful of options.
I’m not saying that having a car is bad. Or having a lease or furniture. But there’s this point when you realize that you don’t really have to have those things if you don’t want them, and it’s really liberating. It’s like the world opens up. Suddenly it’s like you could do almost anything. There are so many choices. This, for me, is what leads to the other motivation for starting Voluntippin: while my circumstances (economic, cultural, societal) motivate my life choices, for many people, their circumstances eliminate their life choices. And maybe we might be able to help change that. And maybe one of the ways to help change that is by volunteering.
I don’t think that volunteering abroad is altruistic. Realistically, the money for my plane ticket could probably do more good than I can. I volunteer abroad because I love traveling, because I love meeting new people. I hope that by volunteering I can change people’s lives in some way, maybe aid in providing them with more life choices. But I don’t expect to ever see measurable change from a single volunteer abroad experience.
It’s hard not to suspect, though, that if enough people started giving their time to these volunteer abroad programs, that some measurable change could start to occur. I think it’s unfortunate that the saturation of expensive volunteer abroad programs likely deters a lot of people wanting to volunteer. At the same time, though, it’s exciting that the extremely low cost of a lot of great programs out there will actually motivate people who hadn’t even thought about volunteering to go donate their time and effort somewhere, simply because they want to travel for cheap.
The cheap programs tend to be grassroots, or locally-run. They simply can’t compete with the marketing of these established companies’ dominating online presence. So that’s the basic goal of Voluntrippin: to give these free and low-cost programs a voice. And I really believe that if these programs had a voice, that the popularity of volunteering abroad would increase exponentially. Because when volunteering abroad is done right, everybody wins. A volunteer gets to see new things, learn, travel inexpensively, and program beneficiaries get a helping hand and a guest with a worldview completely different than their own.
We want to be the best online resource for finding free and low-cost volunteer abroad programs–a place where you can browse programs by your interests, planned destinations; where you can read testimonials from past volunteers and even stories from people who are out there volunteering, and why they think it’s such an invaluable experience. Right now we’re just starting, but that’s where we hope to get. Our site will always be free, and we’ll always be eager to talk to our readers, whether they have questions, criticisms, stories, or just some great ideas. Let us know what you think: http://voluntrippin.com/.
Founder & Editor-In-Chief, Voluntrippin.com