Volunteering and Voluntourism: The Good, the Bad, and the Questions You Should Ask. The first part of the title refers to two of its fundamental values: voluntary volunteerism and vantages de Vivre. Voluntary volunteerism is based on helping people in distress. The term voluntary doesn’t necessarily mean giving up your own money; it simply means that you are making a conscious choice to participate in something that you feel strongly about. In essence, voluntary volunteering offers a social contribution in the form of services that improve the lives of others.
The second fundamental value of voluntary volunteering is that of vantages de Vivre. This term roughly means “good things for the whole community”. The idea behind vantages de Vivre is that a community should be developed through voluntary work that offers services that improve the lives of all residents. In other words, volunteers are making contributions that directly benefit people who live in the developing world.
When I was growing up, my family and I were deeply involved in many voluntary organizations. My father served as a volunteer with the Lions Club, and his services helped to build schools, care facilities, and orphanages in rural Jamaica. I participated in various volunteering programs, most of which focused on helping the local population. I was particularly fond of the local food programs, which provided free or low-cost meals for families in need.
Volunteering and Voluntourism: The Bad Sometimes, volunteer organizations that claim to offer great benefits to participants often fail to meet their claims. For example, while some organizations would offer to relocate a family from rural Jamaica to the beach resort of Merida for a few weeks at no cost, the quality of the housing and the condition of the children in the area were below standards. At other times, volunteers are overcharged and given substandard housing or rations. There have also been reports of physical and sexual abuse of the volunteer workers by the locals. These incidents often go unreported because most volunteers are not equipped with adequate knowledge about the laws and dangers of working in a foreign country.
While many volunteer projects can help the local population, there are also some that do more damage. For example, I once worked with a construction company in the Caribbean that completely destroyed part of the native ecosystem when building their new facility. The destroyed habitat took many years to restore and was not fully sustainable. The impact of this was devastating for the local population who depend on the rainforests and rivers for their survival.
As a result of my work with the voluntary organization I worked for, they later changed their approach and now advocate actively for responsible development work. This enabled them to build schools, clean land, and provide for the needs of the local population. With more responsible and responsive local governments, volunteer organizations can be sure that their projects are improving the lives of those in need.
In a similar vein, I have worked with an organization called Meridians International which is devoted to providing training for British voluntary volunteers. I saw firsthand how their core function of building homes for the indigenous peoples of the Andes Mountains helped build a bright future for many. I also saw how their focus on building strong relationships with the local population assisted them in reducing poverty and disease. When you work on a volunteer project, you see firsthand what is possible, and often better than what is possible in the places you visit.
So, while volunteer programs that offer tours of developing countries can be good for development work, they can also have bad impacts if volunteers are not careful. There is a right way and a wrong way to do volunteer work, and I have seen many cases where volunteers doing work that benefits people do not get the credit they deserve for their work. The best volunteer programs are those that have a history of success. If your organization is committed to building a sustainable future for people in the developing world, I encourage you to consider participating in programs like mine. Your time is often your most valuable asset, so I would encourage you to consider volunteering abroad if it is something you would truly enjoy doing. For more information about volunteering in Latin America or other areas of the world, please visit our website.