Community & Volunteer Impact

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The Goals of Volunteer Travel

While the objectives and necessities of volunteer projects vary greatly depending on the specifics of a project, there are some universal criteria which travel organizations should meet, both in their impact in the communities they work with and in the transformative effects on the people who volunteer  -  i.e. you! 

Impact For The Community

The primary passion of the organization should be the projects they support, through their funding and volunteers. Even if it is a for-profit organization, their main focus should be on work they truly care about. They should be experts in what they do; this means conducting extensive planning, consulting local populations & NGOs and engaging experts in those fields in which they work. Only with a firm grasp of what they aim to do, why they want to do it, and how they want to achieve their goals, will travel companies actually make a positive difference.

Points to consider:

  • Level of need for the volunteer project in the community.
  • The possibility of creating  -  or at least initiating  -  meaningful progress over the course of the trip.
  • The sustainability of a project, which often means:
    • That the local population is involved and is learning to operate or maintain whatever project is being put into place.
    • That the work has a lasting impact. 
  • The involvement of local populations and NGOs, to support the work, to ensure that it is being directed in a positive way, and to help support the community in which the work is being done.
    • This involves both employing and interacting with local populations.
    • Creative ways of incorporating multiple and mutually supporting projects into one trip.

 

Impact For The Volunteers

Ideally, there should be a lasting connection with the work and the people that you have worked with, as it is of vital importance to raise awareness about the need for such transnational cooperation. The knowledge, skills and inspiration that you gain as a volunteer should be widely shared when you get home. If travel companies do their job well, they leave you with an engaging and enduring expansion of heart. 

Key things to consider in making your choice:

  • Find programs that set aside time to ensure that volunteers understand the impact and importance of the work which they are doing.
    • This can be through formal education, or by allowing volunteers time to go out into the local community and learn for themselves the importance of their work.
    • Most importantly, this can be accomplished by ensuring that the opportunity exists for volunteers to be well engaged in their programs.
  • Does the company screen volunteers well? What does it do to ensure that their volunteers are dedicated to the goals of the project?
    • Look for false or deceptive advertising.
    • Even if it might eliminate potential volunteers, companies must be utterly honest about what a project entails. Nothing is achieved by trying to force a volunteer into a situation in which she is not comfortable.
  • Is there a strong support staff on site to help volunteers with any difficulties they may encounter, to help solve any issues which arise during the project?
    • A local support staff should be on hand to resolve issues and answer questions, helping volunteers understand how exactly they are making a positive difference.
    • A foreign support staff should be there to supervise and provide expertise. They should be dedicated to the project themselves, not merely acting as tour guides.