Short-term international work is often criticized for many reasons raising practical concerns surrounding volunteers’ engagement with communities that are nurtured by unethical practices and mismatch unskilled volunteer efforts to skilled labour needs. To further this dilemma, short term volunteering also fosters host community dependence on volunteers’ contributions, all while providing limited actual benefit to the communities themselves. Volunteers that come for shorter periods frequently tend to give resources or tap into connections with resources abroad, however, this not a sustainable approach. In the light of this profit driven industry, community needs and circumstances easily become an afterthought and the impact of these interactions between volunteer and host are not accurately considered. The following are a few signals that you should be weary of when wanting to volunteer:
- There is no volunteer criteria – This means that anybody can volunteer in these fragile socio-political environments. It also shouts “mismatch of volunteer skills to community needs”.
- 1 week -4 week programs – Really?? Volunteer for 1week? Rather book yourself a week Safari in the Krugar because you not helping in any way if you’re volunteering for 1 week. Any organisation that markets volunteer packages that last for a week is out to eat your money.
- An organisation with a HUGE variety of volunteer programs – So you open a web page excited to choose a volunteer program and you presented with a plethora of programs. All of a sudden you feel like a 4 year old in a candy store. What to choose? Where to go? What to do? Slow down, sometimes less is more, particularly with volunteer programs. Don’t be fooled. Many volunteers make the mistake believing that volunteer organisations that have such a wide variety of programs are very well established. In most cases, it is these organisations that are the least established in the communities and don’t really care much about the impact your volunteer experience has on the community.
- Foreign ownership (This is my favourite one) – So the owner of the volunteering organisation is not from the community, yet, is the one you are paying to do volunteer work, in this community. Need I say more?