A heart to volunteer is to be commended. There is so much work in this world that needs to be done, in our own backyards and around the world. There is, however, a moral responsibility, first and foremost, to do no harm. The responsibility lies with each individual to be sure that those volunteer organizations are ethical to the highest degree.
I wrote, earlier this year, about why I hate short term missions trips, and every breath of that still applies. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good organizations doing good work and who we might partner with to expand the benefit. That doesn’t always mean going, bodily. Sometimes it means writing a check. Sometimes it means volunteering online and creating campaigns that raise awareness and create funding. Sometimes it means working locally for something that’s going to be sent overseas.
I’ll come right out and say that orphanage based short term voluntourism should always be avoided. Full stop. The first organization listed below makes it’s entire mission one of cleaning up that mess.
If, however, you are looking for a way to help Syrian refugees, or save the planet, or build communities over the holidays, here are some options that might appeal to you.
“A Nepal free from the threat of child trafficking and strengthened by thriving agricultural communities populated by generations of children living together with their families in strong, safe communities that provide the care, education and life skills necessary for a productive life in rural Nepal.”
“Next Generation Nepal prevents the trafficking of children into abusive children’s homes and rebuilds family connections torn apart by traffickers.”
They provide a fantastic list of considerations for anyone considering Ethical Volunteering and they raise the bar for the industry themselves. They’re the only organization I’m aware of that is actively seeking to reverse the damage done by orphanage tourism.
Before engaging in ANY kind of volunteer project, I highly recommend you read their Ethical Volunteering page, follow the links, ask the questions and apply the self-reflection.
Want to help the refugees of the world, and not just the Syrian ones? Consider donating to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees. If you’re a professional with a university degree and some experience, you can also apply to be a UN Volunteer for a one year placement. There are shorter term (3 month) opportunities as well.
The UN volunteers are doing important work in marginalized communities around the world and have been working with displaced people for years.
“IRC teams provide health care, infrastructure, learning and economic support to people in more than 40 countries, with special programs designed for women and children.
When an emergency arises, the IRC arrives on the scene within 72 hours with urgently needed supplies and expertise that protect people caught in the midst of chaos. We commit to stay as long as we are needed, helping survivors to heal, recover and rebuild their communities to be stronger, more stable and more democratic. In the United States, the IRC has helped hundreds of thousands of refugees thrive in the country that gave them sanctuary and a new beginning.”
“Our teams on the ground in Syria take emergency aid directly to those living under threat and trying to survive in extreme conditions. Besides saving lives and relieving suffering, we help people to stay in Syria instead of fleeing to another country. We provide food and clothing, water and sanitation, and crucial medical aid in a country whose health service has been shattered when it is most urgently needed.”
Volunteer opportunities include a range of possibilities from donating funds, to knitting or crocheting for Syrians, to the possibility of sending a container of aid.
Help the Planet
“To engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.
We bring individuals from all walks of life together with world-class scientists to work for the good of the planet.”
I love that.
Opportunities include protecting whooping cranes in Texas, studying butterflies and bees in the himalayas or shark conservation in Belize, among many, many others.
I was particularly intrigued by their carnivore conservation and research project in Namibia, and the original Great Orang Utan Project in Borneo, I left part of my heart there. They even have volunteer opportunities for families.
Travel to Belize or Madagascar to participate in serious scientific research. Expect two weeks of intensive scientific instruction to qualify you to participate in a useful manner. Survey reefs in Belize, or work to remove invasive lion fish. Travel to Madagascar and survey reefs in the marine preserve.
At home, or abroad
Through the Global Village program you can visit one of the dozens of countries, on one of the 42 trips they have planned between now and July 2016. Habitat for Humanity has a long standing and respected position in the volunteer community for ethical and sustainable practices. This is a great organization to partner with if you want to help in ways that will last.
How are you giving back this holiday season, and as you travel? Are there any great organizations you’d like us to be aware of? Tweet us @bootsnall.
To read more about volunteering, check out the following:
- Is It Worth It? An Insider’s Thoughts on Voluntourism in Orphanages and Schools
- From Tourist to Agent of Change: What You Need to Know About Voluntourism
- How to Get Started with Voluntourism
- Check out our RTW Traveler Profiles and fill one out yourself
- Click here if you want a BootsnAll team member to help you plan your trip of a lifetime