Volunteering Abroad Shouldn't Cost the Earth

Ethical Volunteering

Volunteering abroad should be a worthwhile experience that allows you to make a genuine difference. However, not all projects are created equal. While some projects are substandard or even fraudulent, others are legitimate but charge extortionate fees. Sadly, some gap year and volunteer placement companies are more concerned with profit than with the interests of their volunteers. No one benefits from these placements apart from the companies that organize them. The result is numerous reports of disillusioned volunteers who felt their work was of no real benefit to the local community or environment, and the horrible feeling of being ripped off.

These companies are largely responsible for tarnishing the goodwill of volunteering abroad via unethical business practices. In addition to exploiting vulnerable teenagers and young adults these companies are often accused of ignoring the long-term effects of volunteering on host communities and controversially, forcing some host organisations to sign exclusivity agreements (i.e. so that international volunteers can only work through the gap year or volunteer placement company). All too common are tales of projects that don’t address real issues, slapdash building work, or the effectiveness of grassroots organisations being compromised because of contractual agreements.

Thankfully, there is a way around unscrupulous and greedy gap year/placement companies – choose a reputable and locally run volunteer project. Ethical volunteering is about ensuring the contribution you make is meaningful to local people or the natural environment, and has a lasting, positive impact. After all, if the work you do is worthwhile and long lasting, it will not only be better for the host community or natural environment, but ultimately more rewarding for you. Ethical volunteering is also about ensuring 100% of any money paid goes to the people who need it most, rather than subsidising the plush offices, expensive marketing efforts and staffing requirements of many gap year and volunteer placement companies. Although there are some good placement companies out there, many of them are in the volunteer sector to make money and often pass none of their profits down to the host organisation. An ethical volunteer ensures that as much of their money as possible reaches the grassroots level of society.

As the ethics of volunteering abroad is at the core of Volunteer Latin America you shouldn’t have much difficulty finding a project where you and the host organisation mutually benefit from the experience. There is a good selection of projects where you can provide sustainable and well-targeted help for the environment, other animals, and local communities. Eco-conscious volunteers should consider contributing to a project that helps reduce the impact of climate change and/or provides a hands-on approach to offsetting their own carbon emissions.

When volunteering abroad, it’s vital to choose the right project if you want to do some really valuable work and be labelled an ethical volunteer. Visit the volunteer abroad section of our website to view a wide range of meaningful and worthwhile volunteer opportunities. There is also a good selection of fun projects too! If you use another resource to find a volunteer opportunity in Latin America please make sure your own goodwill translates into doing real good. Volunteering abroad is a powerful force for change but only if you choose the right project.