Voluntourism: The Best Way To Find A Great Organization

Voluntourism: The Best Way To Find A Great Organization
| 4 min read

We all believe that we can make a difference in some way, but sometimes we really don’t know where to start. Giving back in a meaningful way can sometimes seem like a daunting task, especially when it comes to volunteering abroad. What you may not realize is that it’s a lot easier than you think and it can prove to be one of the most defining moments in your life when you decide to take that first step.

I took my first step 5 years ago and it was a pivotal point in my life, truly life changing. Through a little bit of research, I discovered that I could use my skills as an architect to help someone achieve their dream of homeownership and see the world by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. My life has been forever changed and I’ve met some of the most amazing people all around the world. Here’s how you can do it to.

Finding what your passion for giving is: What are your strengths?

Building Homes with Habitat for Humanity

One of the first things to figure out is what your passion for giving is. What is it that you would love to share with the world? Since I’m an architect, Habitat for Humanity was perfect for me because it gave me the chance to put my building skills to great use. Whether it’s art, medicine, law, engineering, etc., there is likely an organization that’s perfect for you. Once you’ve figured out what your passion is, there are a couple of ways to narrow the search. Ask friends or colleagues if they’ve done the type of volunteering that you’d like to do. If you’re a student, check with your school to see what types of opportunities they offer. If you attend a church, mosque, temple or synagogue these are also great resources for volunteer trips.

If none of the previously mentioned options work for you, IVPA is a good place to look next. International Volunteer Programs Association provides a list of member organizations that offer volunteer opportunities. Filter your search by region, country, type of service or length of stay. An important thing to look for when choosing an organization is community engagement. I know this may sound ridiculous because all nonprofits must engage the communities they operate in…right? No. Some organizations give in the way THEY think is best for the people they’re helping instead of talking to the community and finding out what they actually need. They take a broad brush approach to their programs, sort of a one size fits all. This doesn’t often work and can end up doing more harm than good in the end. So you want to make sure you find one that has a country, community and individual program in place.

Asking lots of questions: get to know the organization you want to travel with

Team Spirit

Once you find the right organization, do some homework about the trip specifics. Find the contact person for the trip you’re thinking about taking and talk to them, ask them lots of questions about what to expect, what type of work you’ll be doing, the type of accommodations you should expect, the people you’re helping, etc. If it’s a group trip, ask about the organizer, about your fellow team members and the group dynamics.

This is important because even though we all have the best intentions when we use our vacations to volunteer, there can still be personality conflicts when traveling with a group. Nothing ruins a trip quicker than incompatible personalities; it creates an unnecessary distraction and takes away from the purpose of the trip. All of the volunteer trips I’ve organized as a team leader and participated on as a team member have had an interview process and we intentionally made sure that we brought together a diverse group of like minded people who would work well together. No experience is perfect, but we wanted to make sure that everyone had the best possible time and got the most out of their volunteer experience.

Finding your comfort zone: try it out first

Helping Out in the Philippines

If going it alone or in a group by yourself is a bit scary, starting small is always a great option. A good way to get your feet wet in the world of volunteering is Work Away. Volunteer on farms in China, small family projects in Cartagena, or teach in Cambodia, Work Away allows you to choose from hundreds of projects. You register as a volunteer, view volunteer and cultural exchange opportunities in over 155 countries, chat with the host, and if it’s the right fit, you’re on your way. Travel cheap and stay for free while immersing yourself in the local cultural is the main theme behind the Work Away experience. You can try it for days, weeks or months.

This one may sound a bit old school, but joining the Peace Corps is still a thing. If you’re looking to make a long term commitment, this may be the option for you. The Peace Corps offers a variety of opportunities for giving back in Asia, Africa, Europe, Central America, Mexico, South America, the Pacific Islands and the Middle East. These options include teaching, business development, environmental engineering, community development, health services and more. The period of time for each assignment is 2 years, you must be at least 18 years old, you must be a U.S. citizen and you can also volunteer with a spouse. If you have previous volunteer experience, this is a plus. If the 2 year program isn’t right for you, they also have 3 to 12 month assignments, though these represent only about 5% of the available openings so chances are there might be a wait for those.

The United Nations also has a place for volunteers and many opportunities to help. United Nations Volunteers is based in Bonn, Germany and is active in 130 countries. Though there is a need for just about all skill sets, those that are in great demand are the ones that focus on development, humanitarian, legal services, journalism, medicine, photography and peacekeeping operations to name a few.

Sharing what we love: we can all give back

Giving back is a very personal choice and the way we decide to do that depends on what we love and how we want to share that with the world. Whether it’s a love of teaching, painting, art, law, medicine, engineering or simply helping to feed those in need, we all have something to offer at home and abroad. There’s no one right way to do it. Through giving to others, we also embark on a journey of self discovery and appreciation for what we have.

Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.


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I’m Jamillah and I’m an architect who’s traveled through Asia, Latin America, Africa volunteering and helping to build homes. Through my company Inspired Wandering I take my love of travel and...Read more

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