Planning a successful and impactful trip for your summer/gap year is not always easy given the number of voluntourism opportunities out there. You may have seen the stories that more and more young people are travelling abroad to volunteer so that they can fill up their Instagram account with selfies, or the report from Save the Children that states that “an overwhelming majority of children living in orphanages in developing countries actually have a living parent”. Even J.K Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, is campaigning against irresponsible volunteering placements, tweeting “I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs”.
“I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners’ CVs” JK Rowling
So, how can you steer clear of the minefield of irresponsible and purely commercial options out there?
Follow our tips below to ensure you don’t fall into the voluntourist trap:
- Research the company and placement you are about to embark on
Be sure to look at “development impact”. Does the charity appear to monitor and report on the impact that their volunteers are having in the community? This could form the basis of an impact page on their website or an annual report. If they don’t seem to have a monitoring and evaluation function in their organisation then chances are they care little about the impact they are having and simply want money from their volunteers.
- Find out how the programme is funded?
If the programme is purely volunteer funded then it is likely that once again there is little focus on community impact and creating positive change for the so-called beneficiaries of the volunteer placement. When looking at a placement advert ask yourself, “Is all the language geared at convincing me to part with my money, in order to benefit myself?”
The existence of a recognised funder, such as a development body like UKaid (UK Department for International Development) or SDI (Scottish Development International) shows that a larger body has a vested interest in the programme and the social impact it has pledged to create. Being expected to pay something towards the cost of the programme via fundraising is usually okay as long as the main purpose of the fundraising effort is to raise awareness of the programme and its aims.
- What is in it for you?
Is there a tangible benefit to taking part in the programme? Will you be supported to overcome new challenges? Is there room for personal and professional growth alongside delivering genuine social, economic or environmental impact? Organisations that run a programme that encourages personal growth will tell you about what previous volunteers have accomplished and what skills they have developed, they may even offer a recognised qualification.
- Apply for a volunteering placement with International Citizen Service (ICS)
International Citizen Service (ICS) is an overseas volunteering programme for 18-25 year olds, it is funded by the UK Government and aims to bring about three things: project impact, volunteer personal development and the creation of active citizens. There are eight different development organisations delivering ICS projects in over 20 countries.
Challenges Worldwide, an Edinburgh based International Development charity, runs an ICS programme to support businesses in Ghana, Uganda and Rwanda. The programme includes 10 weeks of training in Professional Consulting paired with a business placement in one of 4 African cities. The programme is split into three stages: Analysis, Recommendations and Implementation.
After your placement, Challenges Worldwide will continue to support the growth of the business and you will return home with a chance to complete a level 5 qualification in Professional Consulting with the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).