Guest post by @connvoyage
If you have a personal story, volunteer resources, tips and advice you’d like to share for Do Good Thursday, please email me at email@example.com.
2010 was going to be my year of giving back. 2009 had been nothing short of amazing for me: living in a posh home in Istanbul, yacht trips on the Mediterranean, lazy mornings in London coffee houses, sleeping in a cave in the remote mountains of Petra under the star-lit night sky… My life has been amazing and as I started planning my Asia trip for 2010, I just knew that I had to give something back to this world that had given me such a privileged and wonderful life. I was going to volunteer abroad!
After weeks of research and contacting numerous organizations, I decided to help a group in Nepal with sustainable development for the country. Dozens of confirmation emails followed and I was feeling good about my decision. Fast forward a few months when I finally arrived into Katmandu and I found myself furious, upset, disappointed and crying, feeling cheated, used and exploited. As it turned out, I had fallen victim to a volunteer scam, which, unfortunately, is not uncommon. A growing number of international volunteers have found their volunteer experiences to be less than what they expected, including not having work to do when they arrived or finding out that their “program fees” did not go directly to the organization’s work.
Lucky for me, I was able to see through the lies immediately and didn’t lose any money (aside from my travel expenses) but many international volunteers do end up scammed out of money. Or worse, scammed out of their good intentions of helping others. Volunteering abroad can offer many amazing experiences, but it is important to understand that in developing countries where charity work can offer a sizeable income from well-intentioned donors, there is a lot of room for corruption and deceit.
Don’t be discouraged, there are A LOT of organizations out there that are doing good things! Just be smart, take some precautions and do your research. The experiences you will gain from volunteering abroad will offer you a changed perspective and a wonderful new outlook on life!
Some useful advice for anyone looking into volunteering abroad:
1. Always check for references
The organization’s website may look legitimate and they may even have a government-approved label of being a “charity organization,” but ALWAYS CHECK REFERENCES. Ask for emails of past volunteers and contact them to get a sense of what the volunteer experience will be. Don’t be shy to ask about the living arrangements as well!
2. Financial disclosure
The organization should be able to provide you with a financial break-down of their spendings. Makes sure that a majority of the money the organization makes from fundraising, donations, and your program fees goes back toward the organization and its programs.
3. Location, location, location
Do research to get a full sense of where exactly the volunteer organization is located as many cannot afford rent in the city center. Will there be things to do and places of interest to visit during your time off? Is there easy access to transportation to get around? You will be spending a significant amount of time in a foreign place and you don’t want to be bored while you’re there!
4. Word of mouth
Ask your friends and family if they, or anyone they know, have traveled abroad and done some volunteering. Travel forums and blogs are another good source of finding good volunteer organizations. Knowing someone who has had first-hand experience will give you a better sense of what to expect and can almost guarantee that you won’t have a negative experience.
5. Follow your instinct
If at any time, you get a I’m-not-so-sure-about-this feeling in your stomach, trust yourself and find another organization. You should feel 100% positive that your volunteer experience is going to be worth your time and efforts. If you don’t, keep searching until you do. After I left Nepal, I found another volunteer organization to work for, this time in Thailand. The three months I spent in Thailand has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences in my life. Even though I’d had a bad experience volunteering abroad, I am still looking forward to more volunteer projects in the future. I’m just going to be a bit smarter this time around.
* If you’d like to read my blog about the Nepal volunteer scam, go to: http://connvoyage.blogspot.com/2010/04/lies-lies-lies-or-volunteering-in-nepal.html
Connie Hum is a bit of a loose canon. She gets an idea in her head and she just goes with it. After making the decision to live the life she’s always wanted, Connie left her amazing apartment in New York City and job at an international consulting firm in February 2009. Since that time, she’s lived in Istanbul, sailed in the Mediterranean, slept in a Bedouin cave in the mountains of Petra, bellydanced her way through Cairo, drank afternoon tea in London, danced with young Buddhist monks in Burma, learned the art of Vipassana meditation in an ashram in India, trekked the Himalayan mountain range in Nepal and sunbathed in the gorgeous beaches of Thailand. And this is only the beginning! You can follow her travel (mis)adventures on www.connvoyage.com or on Twitter at @connvoyage.