South Africa is the sixth most searched volunteer destination on Google and high on many ‘top volunteer destinations‘ lists. With its big variety in volunteer programs, wildlife, nightlife, history and surfing opportunities, it’s obvious why — you get all the excitement of traveling while making a difference.
However, to really make a difference, there are some crucial things you should consider before booking a volunteertrip. Dutch filmmakers Loeke de Waal and Steffi Posthumus made #doinggood, a documentary on the effects of the booming voluntourism industry, and came up with a practical list of things to keep in mind before booking your trip abroad.
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1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
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3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
Do Your Research
It may seem like the obvious thing to do, but it can be incredibly hard to find clear information on a lot of volunteer programs. Don’t be afraid to ask questions — What is it you’ll be doing on a daily basis? Where? With whom? What kind of introduction will you get? How many other volunteers are there? What skills do you need?
If the agency or project can’t answer your questions, you might want to reconsider booking your trip with them; after all, you want to make the biggest impact possible. Another thing you could do is try to find out through other volunteers. A lot of volunteers keep a blog during their trip and will be super enthusiastic to share their experience with you and give you some great advice and tips!
Agencies Versus Charities
Worldwide, the amount of volunteer programs has increased by 800 percent over the last ten years. Not so much because there are more people in need, but more so because of the profits people are making off of it. The ‘all-in-one’ volunteer trips most for-profit travel agencies offer might be the easiest way to go, but keep in mind that they get a percentage of your money. If you book directly through a charity, you can be (almost! Don’t forget about number one) sure your money is going to the project, and you’ll probably find that it’s much cheaper.
Involve The Local Community
To really make a difference, sustainability is the keyword. And how sustainable is a project ran by foreign volunteers? Usually not very. That’s why you should absolutely think of the involvement of the local community. Even though it might feel like you’re doing ‘more’ when you’re in charge, it may be better for the people/community that you’re working for to be more of an assistant to the locals at the project. They are the ones who should be able to keep it going once you’re gone.
Use Social Media Wisely
Everyone has seen them: pictures of (mostly white) boys and girls and cute (mostly black) kids. The voluntourism industry wouldn’t be as big as it is now without them. But what message do you want to send across, and how genuinely altruistic are your motives if you constantly post pictures of yourself while doing good? More importantly, how would you feel if you were in the position of the kid(s)? Even though they often like taking a picture with you, they don’t have a clue what it entails to be on the world wide web, pictured as the ‘poor,’ ‘helpless,’ ‘needy’ kid. Think about what you should and shouldn’t post. Does your picture help spread the word about the project? Go ahead. Does it help your Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Vine look cuter? Just don’t.
Be Realistic About Your Skills
Before you book a trip, think about what you’d like to be doing and if you have the skills to do so. Of course, a trip like this is also a great way to learn something new. But keep in mind that you only have a certain amount of time. Could you really be a teacher/construction worker/caretaker/ranger within a couple of weeks? And how much time and effort would you be willing to put in, preparation-wise? Again, an assisting role could be a lot more useful in the long run, and you’ll still learn plenty of new things.
The Upsides And Downsides Of A New Language & Culture
This point goes hand in hand with number five — getting to learn a new language and culture is awesome. But keep in mind that it might make your chances to really make a difference harder, as it will take more time to communicate and adjust to the other culture.
Amount Of Time You Have
Be realistic about the amount of time you have. Are you going for (half) a year? Sure! Than you can definitely grow into it. But if you just have a couple of weeks, there’s only so much you can do. Keep that in mind when booking your trip!
Expectations Versus Reality
A lot of volunteers struggle with their expectations versus the reality. By doing your research (number one) thoroughly, you can minimize disappointments. But realize that sometimes being disappointed inevitably comes with traveling. And that’s actually a good thing because it’s one of the main things from which you could learn. Besides, if you’re open to it, the reality might even exceed your expectations!
Think About Your Goals
Before you even start doing your research, set out your goals. Why do you want to volunteer? Who do you want to do it for? What do you want to do? Why do you want to do that? And how could you do that in the most productive way? If you make it clear for yourself what it is you want to do, you’ll notice you’ll get a lot more done during your time as a volunteer. Again, be realistic about your time and skills and set achievable goals like ‘I want to teach the teacher and the kids a children’s song from my own country’; ‘I want to help a local with writing an application letter’; or ‘I want to cook my favorite meal for everyone in the orphanage so the caretakers get some real quality time with the kids.’
Enjoy Every Bit Of It
Last but not least — enjoy it! Volunteering can be a life-changing experience — most definitely for yourself and if you do it mindful, you might just make a sustainable change in someone else’s life as well!
With #doinggood, Loeke and Steffi want to open up the debate on voluntourism and stimulate youngsters all over the world to have a (more) critical look at their motives to want to volunteer abroad. Want to help to make that happen? Support their crowdfund campaign so they can submit their film for international film festivals and spread the word! Or if you’d like to see the film, visit www.hashtagdoinggood.com.
By Steffi Posthumus and Loeke de Waal
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