There is a great quote from cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that has.” Giving your time to a cause you care about is always worthwhile, but volunteering internationally can be a particularly rewarding experience. Not only do you get to give back, but you also get to experience a new world and a new culture while doing it.
There is a new development in the travel world called “voluntourism.” This is typically a short vacation during which some sort of charity work is done, though significantly less than during a concentrated volunteer, charity, or development project. The primary difference between these and typical vacations is that there is much more interaction with local communities, so travelers can gain a much richer experience than they would on a resort, for example, gated off from the rest of the community. However, since the community work in these situations is so much less intensive, some question these trips ethically. Every little bit of work around the world helps, but it begs the question – Who are these trips really for? The communities or the travelers?
That being said, “voluntourism” could serve an important purpose – getting people involved to begin with. Taking on a big charity project can seem daunting. Also, there are undoubtedly people who want to get involved in some way, but don’t know quite how to begin. These trips could be a gateway for such people, a way for them to dip their toes in the water before jumping all the way in.
Types of volunteer work typically performed on these trips include teaching English, teaching computer literacy, working at an orphanage, working with handicapped children, building homes or schools, and environmental conservation projects.