The number of people volunteering has increased significantly in recent years. More and more people are deciding to do federal voluntary service or what is known as a “gap year”. A gap year is a journey undertaken before the start of studies or training. This can also take the form of a “sabbatical” at a later point in one’s working life. Today we’ll talk about volunteering abroad as part of such a gap year or sabbatical and show you both the positives and negatives to this venture. Let’s go!
Motivations for volunteering abroad
The most commonly mentioned reasons for volunteering abroad, according to the Center for Responsible Travel, are as follows: Travelers hope to gain their own impression of the impact of the project’s work, gain a better understanding of the problem and solution, and be part of a change as well as success. Of course, the philanthropic idea of wanting to help those who do not have it as good as oneself also plays a central role.
Do you recognize yourself in this? Maybe you had or have the desire to authentically exchange into another culture, to undertake a journey with added value, to do good and to develop yourself in the process. Because one thing is for sure: not only for you personally do these experiences and newly learned skills seem to be really valuable, but companies also recognize voluntary or social work on your resume. Sounds positive so far, doesn’t it?
Downsides of volunteering abroad
Even if the motivations for volunteering are more than clear and understandable, one must face reality and question some points more deeply. In most cases, stays at projects are requested on the part of travelers that require neither prior experience nor training time. This may sound tempting for travelers at first, but to what extent can they understand the needs of the projects as well as the people on site or even the problem in its entirety without know-how?
Unpaid volunteers disrupt the labor market because they take away jobs and thus income from the locals. In addition, most of the price that volunteers pay for their stay abroad does not end up in the region itself, but in the administration of the stay. Organizers can thus exploit the goodwill of travelers to their advantage.
If you don’t understand the problem sufficiently, you can’t address the cause. Often, short-term measures are taken to help, but these do not help to ensure long-term change. As a result, the local population or the project target group is still dependent on the helpers from abroad. Empowerment, i.e. autonomy and self-determination, should be the goal of every project.
In addition, the needs of the travelers are placed above those of the local people and the focus is sometimes more on offering them a tourist product. Consequently, poverty is also used as a marketing tool. For this purpose, the travelers are portrayed as active helpers and the local people as passive recipients of help.
Our opinion about volunteering abroad
At socialbnb we connect travelers with environmental and social projects worldwide through our booking portal. So you can book accommodation with us at a project and financially support the valuable project work through your accommodation price. The institutions are supported in developing a concept that is suitable for them and that, in addition to being attractive to travelers, also has added value for the local population and involves as many actors as possible. Therefore, our approach is not to be equated with volunteering.
The travelers are not encouraged or even called upon to volunteer in any respect. For them, the accommodation represents a sustainable or authentic accommodation option with social added value. They can arrange their vacation as they wish. However, a project tour is available upon request. The empowerment of the local population is particularly close to our hearts in order to prevent dependencies already mentioned.
We are particularly critical of the attention paid to the protection of children and animals during volunteer service abroad. In some cases, the volunteers’ periods of service are so short that the children constantly receive new caregivers and their stable, emotional development can be jeopardized. Animals are not kept species-appropriate for tourism purposes in many cases.
At socialbnb, every project that wants to be listed on the platform has its child protection policy checked and ensured through quality criteria. Projects related to orphanages are not listed with us for various reasons. In the area of animal welfare, we work together with Animondial, who also check animal welfare criteria.
But is it now no longer possible for you to volunteer abroad in good conscience? Together with Ecpat (Working Group for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation) we have created guidelines for projects that want to be listed on socialbnb. You can find our child protection policy as well as our traveler guidelines at the bottom of our website. If you are interested in learning more about Ecpat’s requirements for volunteer providers and policies, and how you can best undertake such a journey, please feel free to visit here.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) sees tourism as a key industry for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Learn more in this blog post. Sign up for our free newsletter and get a monthly chance to win an overnight stay at a socialbnb of your choice. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for you!