How to Volunteer Abroad Ethically

volunteering abroad sounds like a great way to experience another culture and give back while doing so. But truth be told, not all volunteer opportunities are good ones. And if you don’t do your research — like really do your research — your volunteer efforts can bring more harm than good to the community you are supposedly helping.

There is a trend called “voluntourism” where well-meaning volunteers come into a place in need, do some work, take photos to post on Instagram, and then they leave after a week or two.

There are some shady organizations that capitalize on this desire to help, and before long it becomes a money-making venture rather than a way to truly make a positive impact.

And the cycle looks like this:

Volunteers start to take jobs that local people could be doing, and are sometimes allowed to perform tasks for which they are not trained and would never be able to do in their home country. Communities they work with have to deal with a constant stream of people coming in and out, and never see much improvement in their situation.

This cycle continues and in order to keep attracting volunteers, the organization needs to maintain a level of need. This means entire communities are sometimes kept in a state of poverty in order to attract overseas volunteers, aka “poverty porn”. And likewise, animals aren’t released into the wild, but instead are kept in captivity.

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