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10 voluntourism holidays that will actually make a difference

Written by Travel Adventures

Throwing sweets at children, cooing at orphans and interrupting school lessons; thankfully, these days, savvier socially minded travellers are ditching unethical and token volunteering experiences in favour of a new breed of impact travel. When planning a volunteering trip abroad, here’s what you need to look out for to ensure the experience is ethical and will actually have a positive impact:

  • If children are involved, ask to see a child-protection policy or child welfare guidelines that outline how a company or operator guarantees children are safe from exploitation. For more information, take a look at the Child Welfare and the Travel Industry: Global Good Practice Guidelines created by G Adventures in partnership with Friends-International’s ChildSafe Movement.
  • Prioritise experiences designed by a charity or community rather than those that travel companies have enforced or shoehorned into an itinerary.
  • Scrutinise tour operators and providers about where your money goes; look for a transparent breakdown of costs that outlines how much stays in the community or charity.
  • Ask to speak with previous volunteers about their experience.
  • Do background checks on the provider and the region. A quick Google search should reveal any controversies about volunteering doing more harm than good, or whether communities welcome voluntourism or not.
  • Ask yourself, ‘Would I be comfortable with this situation at home (where I’m from)?’, and if not, you shouldn’t feel comfortable abroad either. For example, would you like tourists to traipse through your children’s school taking photos?
  • Consider how your skills can have the best possible impact, and avoid volunteering opportunities that could be important paid work for local people. For example, if you are a teacher, it’s best to leave the laying bricks to a local brick-layer, instead, use your skills to train teachers.
  • Check animal-welfare guidelines before volunteering in an animal sanctuary.
  • Never volunteer at an orphanage. Research conducted by Lumos states that over 80% of children in orphanages have living parents. In some cases, children are taken from parents so that so-called orphanages can profit from tourists. For further information, please take a look at People and Places’ statement on why they stopped sending volunteers to orphanages ten years ago and Responsible Travel’s Guidelines.

For inspiration, we’ve rounded up 10 of the world’s most admirable voluntourism trips. From delivering dentistry on the Mongolian steppe to working with local conservationists in Armenia, these adventures respond to urgent needs while fulfilling purpose-hungry travellers.

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