Steve Gwenin, CEO of GVI: You need to be honest about what you want. Do you want a cheap backpacker experience, do you want to work, or would you rather be at the beach most days? Do you want to make a difference – that’s the first step.
Willy Oppenheim, CEO of Omprakash: If they’re making a bunch of money for a short time on something you don’t really know how to do – like build a school – then realise that for them it’s more of a money making exercise than really impactful help. It's basically tourism and not service. If you want something more serious and more sustained then maybe you need to look somewhere else.
“There’s nothing wrong with identifying what you want to get out of a trip and making it something specific”
Gwenin: Look at the volunteers’ reviews or speak to one of the alumni and see what they did on a day to day basis.
Oppenheim: If a company is asking you to pay a deposit when all you’ve done is fill out a one page web-form then perhaps they’re not interested in vetting you or finding the right match for your skills and experience.
Gwenin: Look into who the local partners are and look into how the project is going to hit its goals. For example we work with partners like Save the Children, government ministries, the Red Cross and the WWF and lots of universities.
Oppenheim: One of the major sleights of hand is when organisations say everything is all included. The actual costs for three meals a day and accommodation in India for three weeks might cost $1,000 for instance, but if you’re paying $5,000 there’s a big gap there. Don’t fall for the myth of everything being included because it looks easier.
Gwenin: If you’re less confident then check there’s more support, especially before you go. Check the ratio of helpers to volunteers.
Oppenheim: Don’t let yourself off the hook with something vague like cultural differences or global citizenship. It’s so broad it’s doesn’t really mean anything. Instead, for example, if you have someone who wants to learn about small businesses in agriculture and their access to capital in rural areas because they’re interested in micro-finance, then that would suggest that they’re going to get something specific out of the experience that could help them in the future. There’s nothing wrong with identifying what you want to get out of a trip and making it something specific.
For more information check out our long read around the complex issues of voluntourism.
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