Volunteering Abroad can be a very rewarding experience. There are various non-profits out there that could use your skill-set, whether it be teaching in the subject of English, Art, Music, Medical, Law or in any area of expertise you might possess.
Because we live in a privileged nation, I believe we have the duty to help others less fortunate, whether locally or abroad. But please do it with the right intention, with an accredited organization, and your time spent will go a long way.
Based on my experience, I challenge you to ask yourself some questions before making the journey abroad to volunteer. There are also organizations I recommend, included in this section of my blog.
Volunteer for the Right Reason
Before you commit to serving abroad, ask yourself these questions:
1. Have you done your research on this organization?
a) First step is to google them and see if any bad reviews/experiences from previous volunteers come up.
b) Check Charity Navigator to see if they are a registered NGO with more than 5 years of experience and a transparent organization. If so, view their financial reports to see if it’s an organization you trust. They rate the NGOs out of 4 stars. 3-4 stars are good, anything below that I would recommend staying away from.
c) There have been reported scams on orphanages in Cambodia and in various places, where the money donated does not go to the children or actual cause. One report states that less than 25% of children in orphanages are ‘actual orphans’. There are also ‘fake orphanages’ and incidences where they exploit, abuse and deform children for the sake of getting more donations (I’ve seen this first hand in China and India). Stati
2. Is what you are going to do, actually going to be beneficial to the people you are ‘helping’ and their community?
a) While I believe most people have good intentions when going to help, you have to also put yourself in their shoes. If you are going to teach English, will you actually have a curriculum? If you are volunteering for a day, do you think you will really help or are you disrupting their class?
b) Many people choose to volunteer in Orphanages or Schools. While many children seem to love visitors, studies have shown that it could leave more of a scar. What they need is more stability, but to have so many people coming in and out of their lives on a daily basis will hurt them more.
3. Are you doing this to actually help others, or for vanity reasons?
a) We have all seen NGO’s and Volunteers that go abroad to a poor area, just to take photos and leave. They have made little to no impact in being there and rather were more of a disruption.
4. Is there an agenda outside of truly wanting to help the less fortunate?
a) I personally stay away from religiously-affiliated NGO’s. It’s not to say that there are not good ones out there but I do not believe they should go to convert. If a faith-based group wants to help out of the goodness of their heart, then do it. If they want to build a church or temple in the local community, they are welcome to. But they should not force or guilt the locals to convert or belittle their own faith. It makes the intention of helping not pure any more when they are there to spread their religious gospel. This is the part that gets tricky. Many religions and religious people that have huge hearts believe that they are ‘helping’ and ‘saving’ individuals when they do convert people. They are trying to get them to ‘heaven’. Hence why I simply stay away from this altogether.
With that being said, I do respect the religiously affiliated NGO’s that have built thousands of non-secular schools, medical clinics and provided relief in times of need throughout the world.
Suspend your belief while traveling abroad and learn from their customs. Stay away from ‘ethnocentrism‘ – believing that one’s own culture is the only ‘right way’. Remember every culture is different. You are visiting their home, so respect their local traditions without trying to enforce your own beliefs on them.
The point of NGO’s are to lend a helping hand to the under-privileged. Ultimately, the goal should be to create self-sustainibility to each and every community. There are times that there are certainly needs for “hand-outs” in the case of Natural Disasters, Disease and Poverty-Stricken areas such as Somalia where being fed that day is a matter of life or death.
Charities I Trust
As you do your research in what non-profits you choose to volunteer in, I suggest you look for ones focused in Education, Economic-Empowerment, Entrepreneurship. Look for NGO’s that have well-thought out plans of how to help and teach in the present years. They should have an exit plan in the near future so that the community can be self-sustaining and better off on their own.
For example, if the NGO provides water wells or sanitation systems, do they teach the locals how to fix it if it broke?
I will be compiling a list of Non Profits I have visited and trust on the ‘Charities‘ section of my blog, which is separated into “Volunteering Abroad” and “Donate” (as some charities do not take outside volunteers).
A book I highly recommend regarding productive charities as well as mistakes some have made to help you understand the complexities of the Non-Profit world:
A Path Appears, by Nicholas Kristof.