Every year countless young Australians head overseas to give their time to those in need. Now, school-based volunteer travel company World Challenge has announced an end to trips to orphanages in developing countries after research showed the practice was harming vulnerable children.
So what can you do if you want to volunteer overseas? Here’s how you can lend a hand in an ethical way.
If it involves children, consider your impact
Leigh Matthews, a coordinator at ReThink Orphanages, who conducted the research into the impact ‘voluntourism’ had on children, said it was important to consider your impact on other people’s lives.
“I think you have to be careful with any activity that volunteers with children,” Ms Matthews said.
“It’s very hard as volunteers to properly evaluate the impact and potential harms that might arise from your involvement. We advocate steering clear of volunteering with children, in particular, in residential environments.”
Look beyond orphanage placements
Ms Matthews said there were a whole host of other opportunities for young people.
“We would advise going with organisations that work with from a process of education and the idea is that [if] you understand the issues, you can then become a change agent in your own community back home,” she said.
“Volunteers can get involved working on community development projects, environment projects. Those are both safer options than working with children.”
Assess the cost of the trip compared to giving a donation
Another option is to donate some of your money, not just your time.
Have a think about the total cost of a volunteer stint, including flights, travel insurance and vaccinations.
If you want to travel, you can allocate a portion of your funds to go to a charity directly doing work within the community.
“It is also good to support charities that are already working in communities, starting with undertaking some research to find out about charities that are involved in the type of work and locations that you might be passionate about supporting,” Red Cross Australia international deployment manager Vanessa Brown said.
“There is some amazing work across the globe being undertaken and mobilised by local communities who are commonly the best placed respond to a certain local need, so our support for their growth can be the best way to have a positive impact.”
If you find a project, read the fine print
Ms Matthews said you should first have a look at the organisation’s reputation.
And she said to make sure the project you work on is one that’s been discussed and approved by the local community.
“Is there transparency … do they tell you where your placement is? How much of your money goes to that organisation, and is there a way you can evaluate your impact while you are there?” she said.
“Basically, do your due diligence.”
“There are many wonderful charities doing great work in local communities and those charities are both big and small. Support a charity that is effective … and is transparent in how it helps, and as longs as it aligns with a cause you care about, then I think go for it.”
Ms Brown said there were a lot of ways in which people can get involved in helping people overseas which can create a positive impact.
“The challenges that have been raised through the international volunteering in orphanages and ‘voluntourism’ unfortunately is looking at a very specific type of volunteering, in a very specific sector of humanitarian work that has had significant implications in its practice and on the local communities it has operated within,” she said.
“There are still highly valuable and meaningful (both to the community and volunteer) programs that are being undertaken every day.”
Red Cross Australia is also trialing a new international volunteering program in the Asia Pacific.
“The program will be targeted at utilising highly-skilled volunteers to undertake short to mid-term pieces of work predominantly online but also within country to support resource gaps that have been identified by our local Red Cross counterparts in those areas,” Ms Brown said.
“The model is based on reciprocal learning, whereby our counterparts will also be supported to come to Australia and other countries within the Asia Pacific region to participate and share their knowledge within the program.”
Source: ABC News