gyg-logo-teal-transparent1The GiveYourGap team has been engaged in a lot of conversations lately about “Voluntourism.” Probably valuable to you, too – so here are some thoughts and resources for you to learn more about what voluntourism is and how to be responsible about it!

First off, what is Voluntourism?

Voluntourism is volunteering while traveling, a fairly recent trend that’s grown profoundly in the last twenty years. The goal of voluntourism is to travel and learn and making cross-cultural connections.

What to look for in a voluntourism program?

Here are five things we think are imperative when looking for a good program:

1) The history and mission of the organization. Make sure the organization is legitimate. If the org doesn’t have a website, ask for a write up of their bio. Find out the work they’ve done in the past and what their present objectives are.

2) Find out exactly what you’ll be doing. If the ad is to volunteer at a school, ask what this means. How many hours will you be expected to work a day? How many days a week? Will you be taking the kids on field trips? Will you be helping to cook, clean and feed them? These types of questions will help you get a better idea of what your time will be like at your placement.

3) Make sure you know where you’re living and whether or not you’re expected to find your own accommodations. If you’re doing a home-stay, make sure you bring photos of your family and friends and things from home that you can talk about with your new family.

4) Asked to be connected with a volunteer, either past or present, who can tell you more about their time there. Any good program will be happy to provide you with contact information. Looking at GiveYourGap profiles is a good place to start.

5) Understand where your money goes. Keep reading to find out more…

Where does your money go?

When deciding on a organization to volunteer with, it’s important to find out the fine print of the job description, especially if a fee is required for your placement. Don’t be shy to ask what the money goes to– any legitimate organization should be open to transparency and discussing these matters with you. Plus, you’re probably not the first person to ask. If you’re volunteering with a local organization, ask where your fees go: back in to the community, the organization, administrative costs, etc.

Volunteering through American organizations/companies is really popular right now, but keep in mind that traveling this way means that a lot of your money may be going to American staff and overhead costs instead of into local groups and causes. Make sure you ask for a breakdown of your fees.

No matter who you volunteer through it’s important to know exactly where your money is going!

Resources for Voluntourism
One of the hardest things to do when getting ready to volunteer is managing expectations, but it’s also extremely important! Talk to past volunteers, keep a journal, and stay open minded about the journey you’re about to embark on!

Voluntourism 101

Global Sojourn’s reading packets on preparing, learning and reflecting on travel and volunteering

Worldchanging: Bright Green: Worldchanging Essay: Creating Responsible Voluntourism.


Author judging a high school debate tournament in Cape Coast, Ghana

Earth Hasassri

Me with Dr. Tareq and another doctor at a United Nations Relief and Works Agency that serves Palestinian refugees. My work surrounded chronic diseases of hypertension and diabetes.

Name, Age: Earth Hasassri, 21
University, Major: UC San Diego, Physiology & Neuroscience, and Psychology
Type of Work: Medical/Public Health, Environment/Conservation, Education, Infrastructure (building houses, roads, wells), Community Development, Childcare, Human Rights
Region: North America
Length of stay: Less than one month

Tell us about the nonprofit/social business you work for:
ProWorld, Urubamba, Peru (http://www.proworldvolunteers.org/) – My experience here wasn’t a very great one. The volunteer project was good, but the logistics and organizational structure lacked experience and expertise. They need to work on more strategic planning before I would give them another shot.

Working in Urubamba, Peru in school 712, teaching these children math, arts and crafts, and environmental sustainability.

Cross-Cultural Solutions, Puriscal, Costa Rica (http://www.crossculturalsolutions.org/) – Overall good, but very pricey. I can understand because they have a great structure and good communication. However, they are definitely a little more voluntourist-y than I would like. The community interaction was very minimal and it’s very difficult to see the sustainability in their work.

Damar Services, Inc, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA (http://www.damar.org/) – One of the best organizations I worked with. They work with children and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities, and I strongly believe in their mission and vision. They have a very high success rate (96%) of helping children with Autism live more independent lives and I can clearly see how they work with the public system to make what they do sustainable in terms of policy change.

Casa Familiar, San Diego, California, USA (http://www.casafamiliar.org/) – They work with migrant and border issues. I really enjoy their organization and how much they try to outreach resources to their target population.

How did you find your position?
School resource and personal connections

What’s your typical day like?
4 – 6 hours of work per day, doing various tasks

Working in Santiago de Puriscal, Costa Rica on construction of a soccer court at an elementary school with limited resources.

What kind of people do you work with?
ProWorld – Young orphans and victims of domestic violence local to Peru. I want to warn people against working with orphans unless it’s a longer term commitment since orphans already have issues surrounding attachment and separation. If a short term volunteer were to make an orphan happy, they would relive the same pains when the volunteer leaves.
Cross-Cultural Solutions – Younger, elementary school children who were Costa Rican.
Damar – Children and adults with behavioral and developmental disabilities who come from all over the US.
Casa Familiar – Migrant and refugee populations, mainly from Mexico.

What are your living accommodations? 
Hostel with ProWorld, volunteer house with CCS, hotel with Damar

What do you do in your free time?

Share a favorite memory or story from your experience! 

What inspired you to do this kind of work? If you are taking a gap year, what motivated you to do that? 
Wanderlust and active citizenship

How are you financing your time?
crowd-sourced fundraising, scholarship from school

What kind of special skills do you need to do your job? 
Language, Teaching

Prom Clothing for Children with Disabilities: orking in a residential facility of Damar Services in sorting out Prom Clothing for children with disabilities, providing opportunities for these children to have a social rite of passage.

Do you feel like you are making a positive, critical impact on the global community? 
Only with Damar I was. I feel that it’s very difficult when working with non-profits to make a positive, sustainable change unless both top-down policies from the public sector as well as bottom-up efforts in social movements or behavioral changes are pushed for.

What have you learned about the nonprofit and social business world in your experience?
That change mostly happens on an individual level, and that can turn into a collective social movement if organized well enough.

Do you think you make a unique contribution to your organization as a young person? Is your perspective or approach different from others? 
Yes, and I hope so.

How do you see this experience fitting into your long-term goals?
Made me more understanding of how social issues are intertwined and permeate within each other.

What’s next?
Medical school

Are you blogging about your work or travel? How can we stay in touch?

Would you be willing to take questions from potential Gappers?