With people investing more money than ever into humanitarian trips, the question rises, are these trip making the world a better place? Turns out, it is vital to be selective in the organization a volunteer selects to travel with. The rapid growth of voluntourism has led many groups to pop up all over the internet, traveling to various places and offering various price points and experiences.
Here are 4 questions you should ask about the experience:
1. What is included in the cost?
Different organizations include different components in their overall sticker price. Global EP includes travel, accommodations, and food in its cost. Some organizations will only include accommodations or other fees in their costs. Ask each organization you are interested in what is included in their cost and add in all costs so you can get an idea of how large your investment will be.
2. How does the cost compare to similar experiences?
View a couple of similar experiences to get a feel for what is average. Some organizations are for-profit and will cost a lot more than a non-profit. Global EP runs entirely on volunteers, so the costs go directly toward the trip, including volunteers’ travel and accommodation, with the rest going toward improving the communities volunteers visit.
3. Does the organization provide short-term or long-term assistance?
This goes along with the old saying “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”
However, going in and playing with children at a school or orphanage for two weeks, while fun, will only help the children for two weeks and doesn’t make a large impact beyond those two weeks. On the other hand, coming in and teaching those children skills or, even better, providing pedagogical training to their teachers, will make a lifelong impact. These children receive an improved education, which could translate into marketable skills and a job in their adult years. Thinking bigger, this teaching approach lifts these children and future generations out of poverty.
4. Does the group have 501(c)(3) designation?
Humanitarian trips abroad are a big investment. If the group has a 501(c)(3) designation, it means you can deduct trip expenses as a charitable contribution on your taxes to help offset the cost.
As you get your answers, here are the:
4 things to look for (and avoid!) in an organization:
1. Tangible results.
What are the long-term benefits of the organization’s projects? How has the organization made a difference already? Check the organization’s website or with the point of contact. You want to maximize the investment of your time and money.
Plus, some projects can actually be more harmful than helpful. “[Volunteer] efforts often shirk pressing issues like infrastructure and resource shortages, or unknowingly duplicate existing resources” according to the Huffington Post (1). The organization should teach the existing community how to help itself. Examples of this include medical training, safe food preparation and storage, or teaching marketable skills. Just giving the community money and leaving isn’t helpful. Corruption is high in developing countries, so it will often end up in the wrong hands.
2. Volunteers fill human capital shortages.
Skilled labor is low in impoverished countries, so volunteers performing skilled labor, such as medical care, teaching, or electrical work will not put locals out of a job. Ask the organization “why do you need to look outside the community to find someone to do this job?” (2). Imagine if you showed up to work and there was a new person there. You found out this person previously worked in another field but decided to take over your job for 2 weeks. Yeah, it would be annoying. And not only that, you wouldn’t receive pay while they were there. Now you can’t pay your family at home or your mortgage or rent.
Again, an organization should be working to close these human capital shortages and get the community independent from outside help. Effective organizations achieve this by providing education and training to the community.
3. Costs that make sense.
Volunteers often describe their humanitarian trips as “unforgettable” and “life-changing.” Making the world a better place and improving your own life is a great reason to spend your money, but be sure to invest wisely. Humanitarian trips come with various price tags, depending on the location, what volunteers will do, and length of the trip. Be sure to ask the organization to explain the costs, especially if it seems expensive. Check if travel, accommodation, and food is included in the cost. If a category of the cost seems expensive, ask why. If the organization isn’t willing to be transparent, take your investment elsewhere.
4. Concern for volunteer safety.
Many developing countries have higher crime and face political instability. This fact alone doesn’t mean the country will be a dangerous place to volunteer, but you need to gather more information. Where will volunteers stay? Will the group travel together? Does the organization have an emergency plan? Some organizations will reschedule trips due to dangers. A change of plans is frustrating, but it keeps volunteers safe.
Look for an organization that will make a long lasting positive impact on the communities it serves and on its volunteers (you!). Sustainable initiatives, such as education and training, are projects that will maximize your time and money to make the world a better place. Be sure the trip costs make sense. Do your research, ask questions, and go serve!