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Considering volunteering abroad? Here’s what you need to know.

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Considering volunteering abroad? Here’s what you need to know.

Written by Claire Bennett, co-author of Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad.

If you have been considering volunteering abroad, you may have realised that getting it right is more complicated than you first thought. In writing Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad, we talked to hundreds of people around the world to try to understand the dangers and pitfalls of volunteer travel, and to offer a process for how it could be done ethically. Navigating the options can be tricky. However here we offer some tips to get you thinking along the right path.

When considering volunteering abroad, try NOT to do the following:

  • Seek easy answers. Issues such as poverty and inequality are huge and complex. If there were easy answers, then they would not be such big problems! Embrace the complexity and stay open to learning.
  • Try to be a superhero. See your role as a small cog in an ecosystem of change rather than as central to the narrative, and reflect this in your communication back home.
  • Volunteer in an orphanage. Children in residential care are already extremely vulnerable, and short-term volunteering can worsen attachment disorders. On top of this, foreign support for orphanages has been proven to incentivise child trafficking.

Instead, DO remember these pointers:

  • Learn before you can help. Go with an open mind and be ready to learn from local people. Challenge your assumptions and learn about yourself.
  • Research your options. Some forms of volunteering are more impactful than others, but the right option for you depends on your skills and experience. Do your own research and ensure that the choices you make match your values.
  • Learning and serving are lifelong. Solving huge global issues takes more than a short stint abroad. Consider how you can weave social impact into your lifestyle and daily choices.
A mother with her back to the camera hugging a smiling child
Challenge your assumptions and learn about yourself.