Voluntourism – It’s not always as it seems

Voluntourism is an amazing phenomenon that can have bad circumstances. Rita Marques founder of ImpacTrip, talks about her personal experiences with voluntourism, the danger, but also the great potential of going out there and getting things done.

Voluntourism has a bad reputation internationally. That’s a fact. Many people, who are not familiarized with the concept, would ask why? Why would volunteer abroad for a good cause be bad? Why is it bad that young people from all over the world going to underprivileged countries to dedicate their time and effort bad?

Voluntourism has a bad reputation internationally. That’s a fact.

It’s not, if done right. The issue is that many organizations sell international volunteer programs with the sole purpose of making money. These organizations do not carefully analyze the local social needs, do not provide training to the volunteers, there is no cultural integration and they do not evaluate what are the suitable tasks for volunteers to do. This leads to a frustrating experience for the volunteers (who truly wish to make a difference) and, most important, a negative impact on the local communities they intended to help.

The result is the prolongation of the classic White Savior Complex

I believe that without integrating the local culture, without getting to know the organization, without a proper training to the position volunteers will carry out and without a proper matching of the volunteer skills and the local needs, voluntourism is wasteful at best, and sometimes destructive at worst.

Fortunately, not all international volunteer placement organizations work this way.

More and more organizations are working hard to work together with small local non-profit projects that are on the ground and are deeply involved with the problems and developing the solutions.

In these cases yes, the volunteers can be a great help with new perspectives, with all they energy and enthusiasm and new competences.

These organizations provide mandatory introductory sessions to the volunteers and expose them to the culture throughout their experience so they feel more connected to the cause they are fighting for and the people they work side by side with. These organizations have support 24/7 and make an effort to find the right tasks for the right volunteers considering their skills and motivations but mostly what has the greatest impact on the local communities.

For them, the drive is not maximizing profit at all costs but to give a memorable experience to the volunteers (contributing to their personal development and better citizenship) while having a real impact on the less privileged.

I believe that we do not need to go to the other side of the world to make a difference through voluntourism

We can start in our country or at least in our continent. We are acquainted with the culture and we can relate more directly with the people we are helping.

Based on this principles I created ImpacTrip. This is a small volunteer tourism organization in Portugal, Europe. Many have asked me “Why have you started it in an European country?” to whom I always reply with a smile asking in return

“Have you looked carefully at your neighborhood?”

Europe is not social-problems-free. Especially now during crisis. Here in Portugal the crisis hit the poor particularly hard and more and more people depend on non-profit to survive. Really survive, not to buy the iPhone4 instead of the 5 or so.

To make sure we did not fall in the harmful voluntourism category, we created a network of local nonprofits with which we work very closely to know what resources they need and how we can help them. With that data we can match the volunteers with the right job for them solving a real and pressing problem.

We work in 6 different causes:

  • Environment
  • Fighting hunger and food waste
  • Children education
  • Disabled people development
  • Animal protection
  • Fighting Poverty

But we never forget that our volunteers also want to enjoy their holidays traveling so we developed programs all over the country, from Porto to Lisbon or in small villages in the countryside.

People’s contribution matters to others and themselves

We have had many volunteers from Europe and some from outside Europe and we can see their eyes shining when they leave, full of joy to be part of a small, although real, solution.

It is a truly rewarding work for us to be in contact with the incredibly dedicated staff from the non-profit organizations and the enthusiastic volunteers full of positive energy .

 I can only speak about my own experience but there are many more organizations that offer real voluntourism programs, I mean, voluntourism done right.

I would advise each and every person (no matter the age) to try voluntourism in any trusted organization (just google around for reviews) do develop themselves, to discover another perspective of the countries they visited and to find meaning in their trips. I have done it myself in Southeast Asia and it was as promised, a truly life-changing trip.


 Apply now!

You are interested and you want to apply for an ImpacTrip Volunteer program? To fight against food waste, click here. For a construction placement, click here and apply now. ImpacTrip is waiting for your application!

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