Prof harold Goodwin has been leading the campaign for responsible travel for some 15 years. The following is from his blog
The Experience of a Lifetime? The V Word – caveat emptor by Harold Goodwin on Wed 21 Apr 2010 21:12 BST | Volunteering should be the experience of a life time, deeply fulfilling, fun. It should be rewarding, a chance to discover yourself, to test yourself and to get to know people and places.
Too often it isn’t.
Do something about it.
For examples of what goes wrong see www.irresponsibletourism.info
There are plenty of complaints about volunteering companies – look on the web. Many of the organisations offering volunteering abroad are for profit companies, but even if they’re not, they still owe you a duty of care – you’ve paid them for a service. Demand delivery of what you’ve paid for. It is time to raise the bar on volunteering companies.
1. As a volunteer travelling abroad you should expect the UK organisation that is organising your volunteering experience to treat you at least as well as any tour operator would: if things go wrong, you must complain and assert your consumer rights – you’ve bought an experience and they must deliver. If the operator is in ABTA consider using the complaints procedure. If not, think about complaining to your local Trading Standards office.
2. Ask yourself how much local communities are gaining from your volunteering. How much of what you are spending will end up in the local economy? I hear of cases where locals are sacked to make space for a volunteer. You should check that you will be adding to the resources in a school – you need to be additional, not replacing local labour. Do not assume that all not-for-profits or charities will offer a quality opportunity – ask questions – check the answers. Expect to speak with returned volunteers and check out the web. I have suggested below some sites to check on.
3. Demand a worthwhile experience: ask some hard questions of the organisation which you are handing a good deal of money to provide you with an amazing and fulfilling experiences. These questions will help – and you should demand answers. There are answers which suggest the kind of reply you many want to hear at
peopleandplaces suggest that you ask the following questions and think about the answers – if you’re not sure, then don’t spend the money. You are buying an experience.
1. How can I be sure that what you’re telling me is true and not just marketing hype?
2. How and where is my money spent?
3. How will my skills be used effectively?
4. I’m only going to be there for a few weeks – how can my input be of any real use?
5. Who decides what my role will be?
6. Who knows about me before I arrive and what do they know?
7. Whose idea was the project and who runs it?
8. Can I talk to previous volunteers? They will be able to tell you how much they enjoyed it, what they got out of it, whether the experience was what they had hoped and paid for.
9. Can I talk to local people before I travel?
10. Will I be safe?
11. What’s all this I hear about adequate insurance?
12. Is there any continuity?
13. What kind of support is there for me?
If you are not happy with the answers go with someone else.
Volunteering was something we used to do at home, in our community. In the UK many of us still do, an estimated 20 million people volunteer in Britain every year and it appears from research to be increasing. Colin Rochester undertook a review of volunteering in 2006 for Volunteering England and identified three kinds of volunteering: unpaid work, activism and as leisure. As Colin Rochester points out these categories overlap.
Academics and commentators have shied away from leisure volunteering because of the association of leisure with amateurism and hobbyism, and particularly overseas volunteering, with frivolity and fun.
Increasing numbers of people are volunteering abroad, some for months others for a week or so, some for a day or a few hours. Some of the latter are tokenistic, little more than feel-good-photo-opportunities.
There are probably three main motivations for volunteering abroad, they all have altruistic elements, but in many cases one suspects that the altruism is pretty limited
1. To build a cv and get experience – particularly relevant to gappers
2. To learn more about what life is like in another society – a deeper form of experiential travel which is increasing rapidly in importance
3. To put something back – to make a contribution in someone else’s place where the needs appear simpler and more worthy; and the impact which one volunteer can make is large.
So remember – it’s your money, your time, your dream. Caveat emptor – you deserve a worthwhile experience
Check out the project you are thinking about, you may find these sites useful
people and places is an active member of Ethical Junction, learn more