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Hope you are doing very well today! Thank you for visiting the blog again.

I’ve used the word ‘voluntourism’ in many of my blogs before, describing the fact that I travel and volunteer while being on holiday. I see this as a positive experience, being able to make a contribution while traveling and getting to understand what local live is really like in the country I spend my vacation. Voluntourism makes it possible for me make a difference locally.

Nevertheless, the term ‘voluntourism’ got a very negative reputation lately. In multiple media ‘voluntourism’ has been described as a bad and shady business that we should avoid. The media are basing their stories on honest findings unfortunately. As conscious living is becoming more and more important in our everyday life, a lot of people decide to also travel more consciously. Something I really support! And with becoming a more conscious traveler rises the opportunity to volunteer while being on holiday. On of the most popular activities offered in travels is visiting an orphanage. But as many people see this as a chance to see true living and being able to support, poverty has become a source of income and an economical opportunity for money grubbers.

A research report in Cambodian orphanages has revealed that “tourist visits cause more harm than good.” This research shows that orphanages are run by big business operators, benefiting from the tourism more than the children receiving education. Some orphanages are holding children who aren’t ‘real’ orphans just for economical purposes, contributing to separation of their families.

The above described situation is awful and inhuman, but this doesn’t mean you can’t still make a difference whenever you travel. I believe it’s necessary to do research and consider a few things whether they are reasonable, but definitely don’t stop with volunteering and contributing whenever you can (even on short-stay travels). But how do you avoid being trapped in the lies that come with voluntourism?

I hereby like to share my tips on how to avoid being trapped in voluntourism:

How to avoid being trapped in a lie:

  • Please check whether the volunteering organization has a certification mark or works with the specified volunteering guidelines. Find the list here.
  • Try to find research and find organizations yourself, based on your (travel) plans and interests. Don’t book volunteering as part of a package or as a one-day-activity or tour. These offers are focused on tourism and that can’t be good.
  • Choose organizations who strive for long-term volunteers, even if you will be volunteering a shorter term. Organizations who strive for long-term volunteers consider an honest and true contribution to the project instead of an economical benefit. Ideally short-term is at least two weeks and the perfect volunteering stay would be three months.
  • Consider the focus of the volunteer-option and what you will be doing during your visit to a project. Be sure you don’t visit just to watch and make photo’s. This is a true tourism business.
  • Support vocational training and community-based initiatives, rather than visiting an orphanage directly. There are multiple ways to contribute with money or activities.
  • In general, find your way to truly contribute to an organization. I always consider my contribution and I think everyone should do that. Can I bring a good donation? Is it possible to give my time to learn others a skill? Can I use my skills to positively support the organization (such as photographing for their website or helping with marketing)? Does my time add value or bring a solution for the organization? If any of these questions can be answered with a YES, definitely consider volunteering with this organization.
  • Question the price you pay for a voluntary trip. It’s not weird to pay for volunteering WHEN you bring costs for the organization. Think of a small administrational fee, the costs for food or even accommodation. Be sure to question whether this price is reasonable (in the country you volunteer in). ASK the organization what will be done with the money you spend and question whether a donation is included. If the price is unreasonable, consider this activity as part of an beneficial business and please decide to not support certain activities. If you are in doubt whether the price is reasonable, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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