The Pros and Cons of “Voluntourism”

I quite often avidly recommend Workaway to people looking to save whilst they are traveling, or for people that want a more authentic experience and to get to know the locals in the country that they are traveling.

I personally have had very good experiences with Workaway, although I have not done a large number of placements. Mostly, out of all the people I know, nearly everyone enjoyed their experiences as well.

Before I found Workaway, the only other companies I saw offering to organise “volunteer work” charged foreign tourists an extortionate amount of money.

The problem is, in recent years, with the popularity in backpacking and gap years booming, volunteering is becoming a way for young people to get around whilst spending little money, but not necessarily contributing back in the way that the movement was originally intended to work.
(It is also creating an area of the market where companies prey on people’s genuine interest to help others.)

Either people who are totally unqualified for a specific job will outright lie to get a placement and then not fulfill the work to the promised standard, or I have simply witnessed people be damn lazy or go out and get drunk and spend the day in bed hungover instead of actually helping.

Recently whilst I was in Pai I had the pleasure of spending the day up in the mountains with a group of volunteers working on a mud brick project lead by a local.

When I asked why they weren’t on Workaway and suggested they sign up, I was surprised by the hesitance but started to see why.

After spending the day with them, I saw that they had a good dynamic going on, and having now experienced first hand some of the cons of getting volunteers in, I can see now why they were skeptical to metaphorically open their doors to the possibility of these people coming their way.

The general consensus among the volunteers that I met there was that Websites such as Workaway and WOOFING were fast becoming the new buzzwords for backpackers looking to do things on the cheap. Whilst I think that there is nothing wrong with budget travel and utilising such websites (as I do myself), I feel that you have to be prepared to put in the effort, care and pride that you would with a paid job and be respectful to your hosts.

It’s impossible to lump everyone and all experiences into one basket with this subject, but I have certainly noticed some people aren’t reciprocal of the core values that these movements were built on – genuine interaction, cultural exchange, and working for those that can’t necessarily afford to pay for the help that they need or those who simply want to meet and interact with new people and practice their language skills. This greatly annoys me, when I see kind hearted people opening up their homes

This greatly annoys me, when I see kind hearted people opening up their homes, and not receiving the level of respect they deserve or not receiving the help that they believed that they would get.

What do you think about Volunteering/Voluntourism?

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Freelance writer who loves reading, cooking & travelling. Rarely spotted without red lipstick. Penchant for whiskey on the rocks.

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