The Big Voluntourism Lie.

What you should consider before volunteering on your gap year

The gap year voluntourism industry is hardly a pinnacle of ethical, responsible tourism at the best of times, but now their dirty little secret is about to be exposed, and the lie about volunteering abroad that they have been telling travellers for a long time will be laid bare. 

Since this article was published have removed the specific ‘experience’ referred to in the article and the article has been amended to remove the link to it.

Just when you think the negative aspects of voluntourism couldn’t get any worse, parts of the gap year industry are greenwashing their paid travel experiences with the terminology of volunteering in an effort to appeal to a wider market and increase their profit. These are travel experiences where it is volunteering in name only and has zero positive effect for the local community and no relation to any good volunteering practice. And this is wrong on so many levels.

Voluntourism is big business now. It’s undeniable. Large parts of the gap year industry has taken the concept of volunteering, packaged it and turned it into a multi billion dollar industry.

There are countless travel providers such as STA travel and Go Abroad that offer or promote paid experiences under the umbrella term of ‘volunteering’. More often than not these experiences are about as far from a true, responsible volunteering experience as you can get, yet are sold to the trusting – and often well intentioned – public as a responsible way to ‘give back’.

The misappropriation of language in this way is a large part of greenwashing, with large commercial organisations hiding behind a charitable status or a ‘volunteer’ badge that allows them to earn profits off money that would be better spent on genuine causes.

Not all volunteering is bad, and there are still ways you can participate in some genuine volunteering programmes and make a positive difference, provided you do your research, use your skills and qualifications in an appropriate way, work with the right partners and avoid the bad ones who are usually for profit companies.

Unfortunately there is an even bigger problem in the voluntourism world, where even voluntourism isn’t volunteering anymore.

There are providers within the gap year industry who are selling travel experiences for vast sums, and covering their marketing and promotion with the terminology of volunteering.

Selling The Dream Of Volunteering As A Greenwashed Lie.

There is no real responsible volunteering in these ‘experiences’ at all.

This USA Ranch ‘Volunteering’ programme from GapYear.Com (since this article was published the specific page has subsequently been taken down by them which is why there is now no link to it) is a prime example of this.  It sells itself as a ‘hands on’ experience where you will essentially learn to be a cowboy (or girl), with plenty of horse riding, fence building and other cool activities that you would expect from a cowboy ranch. All for a minimum of £1,499.

What a ‘bargain’. And I use that term in absolutely no sense of its true meaning.

This programme and many others like it have zero social or envioronmental impacts, no cause to fight for. They aren’t helping or empowering a local community or assisting a genuine aid, conservation or relief effort. They have no benefit to anyone apart from the owner of the ranch and those selling the ‘experience’, because who would turn down free labour and a hefty profit, right?

These providers are exploiting the good will and good intentions of those naive travellers who frankly may not know better, and assume that because it says volunteering on the brochure, that they will somehow be doing some good during their experience. The little practicalities of what good they are doing, who the work is benefiting is inconsequential.

A recent twitter discussion with, the industry provider behind the USA ranch programme, highlighted these problems when they couldn’t even answer the most basic of questions that every volunteer should ask. In fact, their only real responses were ‘it’s great that you love volunteering, but some people might like to do it for different reasons than yours’, and even worse, ‘It is important to note that this example causes no harm whatsoever.’

This may come as a shock to those running the experience (although I suspect they know full well but just don’t care), not causing harm is just not good enough. Travellers who sign up for a nice week of horse riding and fence building may not be doing any harm, but they aren’t doing any damn good either! And that is the very essence of a true volunteer experience! And frankly unless their motivations are to make a true positive impact to a community or a cause (in which case they wouldn’t be involved in these experiences anyway), I don’t really care what their motivations or reasons are for doing it, because they aren’t volunteers, it isn’t volunteering and you shouldn’t be selling it as such.

Now hanging round on a ranch, roasting a few marshmallows by a campfire and riding a few horses as you pretend to be a cowboy for a while sounds like a grand travel experience. I don’t doubt that. But what it isn’t in any way, shape or form is volunteering, and should be ashamed of themselves for even promoting it in this way.

I should say this isn’t the only one, I am not just picking on here. STA Travel, G Adventures, Real Gap and so many others sell the same type of false voluntourism. There is a huge industry behind this and there are tons of gap year industry providers selling adventure tours as ‘volunteer’ experiences, with flashy titles such as ‘live with lion cubs in south Africa’ or ‘volunteer with children in Guatemala’. All are equally as wrong.

This is greenwashing at it’s most blatant and obvious. They are simply slapping a label of responsible tourism on their packaged experiences and are relying on the naivety of travellers and tourists to get away with it. It shouldn’t be allowed.

This Is The Big Voluntourism Lie.

Many so called volunteer programmes are absolutely nothing of the sort. Just like’s pretend cowboy jaunt they are holiday experiences with a volunteer label tagged on in an attempt to cash in on the lucrative responsible tourism and voluntourism markets.

This is not just a small minority of companies either, this is a large part of the gap year industry and it is doing irreparable damage to the genuine volunteer sector.

One of the major problems with this is many first time travellers are often a little naive in this respect and they are not making informed decisions when deciding to sign up to these programmes.

There is no blame attached there, it is not their fault.

When people decide to take that step of travelling the world and have that feeling of wanting to do some good, then they need the right information to be able to do that. Seeing the big glossy brochures in STA travel or the attractively named travel experiences with ‘volunteer’ slapped all over them are not the best way to get that information. So with a lack of real information and the truth of the situation they aren’t making fully informed decisions.

Travellers With Good Intentions Are Being Callously Exploited By These Voluntourism Companies.

It is up to individual travellers themselves to do their research and find out for themselves which are the bad companies they need to avoid, and the big problem is it isn’t always obvious how to do that.

What Makes A Good Volunteer Programme?

When choosing where and who to volunteer with, it isn’t as simple as looking in an online industry brochure and seeing what experience you want to do. You have to know the credentials of the company you will be volunteering with, what good they are doing, where the profit goes and many other things besides. So what do you need to know and what do you need to ask?

  • Find out what type of company it is, a non profit NGO? A charity? A for profit business or gap year experience company? That will give you a good first clue to whether it is legit or not.
  • Ask about the specifics of the work itself. What is the point of the work the organisation is doing?
  • Is the work there to benefit the local community in some way and does it change to meet the changing needs of that community, or is it busy work to keep voluntourists busy until the next lot come in on the profit making conveyor belt?
  • Ask if the organisation is building a community project that empowers a local community and can be self sustaining.
  • Find out if the organisation works with a local community or a specific cause  (or both) and ask how long have they been doing so. Does the work have real roots in the local community?
  • Ask if the organisation uses local businesses and local labour, or if they essentially only parachute a bunch of ‘volunteers’ in.
  • Does the organisation keep track of the progress of community projects after completion?
  • Does the volunteer organisation screen volunteers? If so how? What are the requirements? If they aren’t ask why because this can be a big red flag.
  • Are volunteers appropriately matched with the tasks that are needed in the community?
  • Are skilled volunteers utilised or are unskilled volunteers expected to do everything?
  • Always ask for a specific breakdown of any fee you are paying. What exactly does it pay for and how much is used to pay for your upkeep, how much goes back to the community or the project, and how much of the profit goes to the company itself.

All of these are just basic questions and can often lead to deeper, more specific questions that need answering, but they should give you a good idea if the organisation you are volunteering for is a legitimate one or if it is a greenwashed profit company looking to exploit the goodwill of volunteers and the reputation of true volunteering companies. Any good and true organisation will be very transparent and happy to answer any of these questions, those that won’t do that are often suspect. failed at the first hurdle on this account, and couldn’t – or more accurately wouldn’t – provide answers to the most basic of these questions. Their overt anger in their emailed response to me and the subsequent disappearance of that ‘experience’ is evidence of that.

So don’t fall for the lie. If you want a great travel experience working as a cowboy, a farmhand or anything else that these gap year companies are selling then great. Go for it. I don’t begrudge you the experience, it genuinely sounds like fun and I hope you have a great time and get value for your money. But don’t in any way kid yourselves that this is volunteering. Don’t let the greenwashed lie fool you into believing you are anything more than a tourist in this situation with absolutely no hint of a volunteering experience.

This may sound harsh, but the reality of breaking down a lie often is. But I don’t want to completely discourage anyone from volunteering at all.

The urge to help, to volunteer, is a good one. Those of you out there who have that need to help, that basic desire to put back and do something good, that is an amazing thing and should be applauded and encouraged, but in the right way.

That motivation to help and to do good has to be nurtured away from being exploited by the voluntourism model, and education and training should be used to herd it toward real volunteering where it can do some real good.

I urge all of you who want to volunteer on your travels to avoid programmes such as these like the plague. Don’t fall for the greenwashing. Don’t fall for the lie. Please do your research, ask the right questions, find out if the work you are doing is really helping and if you are the right person to give that help. Remember that volunteering is not about you or the experience you will have, it is about utilising your skills in the best way to help in a very real way.  

Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.

Greenwashed Gap Years.How To Spot And Avoid Greenwashing On Your Travels.

How Backpacking And Volunteering Can Help Your Career.

Should You Pay To Volunteer On Your Gap Year?

The Dark Truth About Orphanage Volunteering.

What Type Of Volunteer Are You?

What You Need To Consider Before Volunteering On Your Gap Year.

Michael Huxley is a published author, professional adventurer and founder of the travel website, Bemused Backpacker. He has spent the last twenty years travelling to over 100 countries on almost every continent, slowly building Bemused Backpacker into a successful business after leaving a former career in emergency nursing and travel medicine, and continues to travel the world on numerous adventures every year.

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Posted in Responsible Travel
54 comments on “The Big Voluntourism Lie.
  1. garethevans says:

    I any one really wanted to volunteer for an extended period rather than just have a fancy gap year on their CV they would join a real volunteer organisation.

  2. Laura Vitty says:

    An interesting exposé, I’ve read your similar posts in the past and wondered what your take on the section of the industry aimed at schools was?

    I’m a teacher and work in a school sending students out every summer. There was a rumour a while ago about a local school going out to Tanzania to paint a school, only for another local school to go out and paint the exact same school again for absolutely no purpose… Also, a large part of the trip is spent on experiences for these students such as hiking, scuba diving etc.

    I lead a trip every other year, we do biodiversity research contributing to actual journal papers and provide an economy to small villages that would otherwise be making a living from illegal logging and poaching. Although… The company does still make a very small profit of about 1%. With no other option when taking that many students somewhere really remote, we do still use the company… And they do recruit the volunteers to work with my students when collecting their data. The students get hands on fieldwork experience and the company use the data collected to apply for legal protection for that area of rainforest.

    In some ways, does that then disadvantage the local communities? Criminalizing them? Or does it protect their homeland….

    I struggle to balance the fact that we need to fundraise about £56,000 a year to take the students there… But fundraising for something that is not a charitable cause leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts.

    • Thanks for the comment Laura, I don’t know enough about these specific examples to make a direct comment, but I can say in general terms there is both good and bad in the school volunteer industry just as there is an every other part of it. I think a lot of the time the bad aspects (private company profit making, no actual benefit, travel experiences over the volunteer aspect etc) can be more institutionalized as many schools/colleges will set up contracts with profit making companies to send out an endless conveyor belt of students, and those companies they are comfortable working with are often on the industry side of things. As you say, various schools being sent out year after year to re paint the same wall in ‘a local community’ that sees no benefit from it. Those tend to concentrate on the students experience (hence activities such as scuba diving) rather than any good being done and are essentially there to make a profit.

      There are however some fantastic orgs who take on students in volunteer research roles that genuinely have a benefit to local communities as well as academic research. Any ethical argument on how good an individual company is would depend on many of the factors and questions talked about in the article. Is there profit made? If so where does that profit go? If there are conservation efforts involved then who benefits? Is the company benefiting financially from that arrangement or is it all about the cause? If funds are raised then what are those funds used on? Who is it for? Is it just for transport/accommodation/food of the students (in which case it seems reasonable as why would any cause have to support volunteers?) Or are those funds going to a company who makes a marginal profit by ‘looking after’ them? (In which case I’d argue they are on shaky ground). What is the purpose of the work, the research, what benefit does it have? Do they work alongside locals and work with the local community dependent on their needs? Is this an ongoing operation that doesn’t change year after year (and is there to serve as an experience for class after class after class) or does it change, evlolve, move dependent on the needs of the research and the community? At the end of the day, ask yourself who benefits? Ask yourself what the endgame is.

      Fundraising doesn’t always have to be charitable, if it is for genuine academic purposes that leads to a real benefit for the envioronment/community/cause, then that can be good too. Assuming of course all funds are going toward that aim. However, if it is fundraising to pay the fees of a company, then I would be asking a lot more questions.

  3. I have found that the best way to volunteer is directly through organisations in the country. Usually they are run by local people who know exactly what help is needed in the area and any fees that are charged are minimal to cover admin fees/accommodation expenses. I have volunteered at several projects where I have really felt as though I am helping to make a difference.

    • I agree to an extent, although it is important to remember that it is still important to question ‘in country’ orgs thoroughly as there are bad ones in that category too, and there are also decent international volunteer orgs with stringent requirements and selection processes (such as Medicin sans frontiere and others). You are right though, working with locals is key and essential. It’s just important to investigate them all thoroughly first.

  4. africaencompassed says:

    This is brilliant! People forget that often they won’t actually be doing any good, despite their intentions.

  5. Claudia says:

    Great post Mike. The label of volunteering is applied way too easily and even the best intentioned may fall for it. I have often found myself tempted to join one of these programmes and what stopped me from doing so in the end was a simple reasoning: why should I pay to work? I did not even go as far as asking myself who’d benefit from my work, and kept it to the very basic point (and you know what my background it, I suppose). What’s most disturbing is that often the more you pay, the less you work. Let me tell you about something that happened to me a couple of years ago:

    I was preparing for my big trip to Central America and wanted to try some couchsurfing along the way. I looked for some couches in Guatemala and found some in Santa Elena, not far from Tikal, which I wanted to visit. I sent a message to the family who offered the couch and what I got in return was a link to a page that sold volunteering programmes. It was very well disguised and even attractive, I must say. It offered to be hosted in Guatemalan families and work (I don’t remember the projects) in exchange for it. But that’s not all. What is interesting is that there was a fee to be paid and the higher the fee paid, the less amount of work was expected and the more comforts could be had in terms of accommodation. In other words, by paying more it was possible to “bail out” of work.

    I reported the page and the hosts to and they immediately removed the user and it was violating its terms, and I must say couchsurfing has always been great in this sense. But you see, this is just another example of how companies try to take advantage of naive travellers!

    • That’s definitely an example of how companies can abuse and misappropriate the language for their own ends. On the paying issue it isn’t quite that simple, there are certainly some genuine orgs who charge unskilled volunteers for room and board only, so that funds aren’t being diverted from the project/cause. And that is only right.

  6. Mariellen Ward says:

    One of my biggest concerns about voluntourism is whether the volunteers are actually taking work away from local people. I volunteered with a wonderful program in Dharamsala called Art Refuge that provides care in the form of art therapy to Tibetan refugee children. They had both local and international workers and volunteers. We were adding to the children’s education, and not taking opportunities away from the local population, so I believe in this organization. But I have heard of others where volunteers built a school and took work away from local craftsmen. This is something that I think should be considered.

    Great article!

    • Totally agree Mariellan, and whether the NGO/org uses and trains local workers is one of the many questions that should be asked when assessing a volunteer experience. Volunteering works best when it supports and empowers local communities, not when it takes over and patronises it. But then companies selling experiences like those in the article are even worse. Using the volunteer badge to greenwash what is blatantly just a travel experience. There should be controls and sanctions against this behaviour. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  7. Kirstie says:

    I hadn’t given volunteer programs a lot of thought before, so this is very interesting. There’s nothing wrong with programs that have you pay them for a non-charitable experience, but calling them “volunteer” programs really undermines the real ones!

    • Exactly Kirstie. I have nothing against paid travel experiences like the cowboy one I used in my example or the gap year companies that run them. What I do have a problem with is when they slap ‘volunteer’ on the brochure and greenwash their for profit holiday experience. It confuses many uninformed travellers and undermines real, genuine volunteer work. It is blatantly misleading people for profit, and it is wrong. Thanks for commenting.

  8. brmsimmons says:

    I’ve heard of one such company that would have volunteers build a building then tear it down for the next group to build.

  9. betsywuebker says:

    A very thoughtful and relevant post about the dirty underside of do-gooding. These are the types of experiences that “slactivists” love so they can humble brag about their beneficence. It’s the Disney-fication of charity. I don’t understand whether participants are totally clueless or just want to do a drive-by to put it on their CV.

    • Thank you Betsy, I completely agree and I suspect in the fly by voluntourists case it is probably a little of both. It is these companies such as who knowingly and willingly greenwash travel experiences with ‘volunteering’ that disgust me. As much as potential volunteers need educating, these companies know exactly what they are doing and I have zero qualms about shining a torch on them and holding them to account.

  10. Fabio says:

    This is such an important topic because, as you say, responsible tourism and voluntourism are big at the moment. While this should be something to be celebrated, it is unfortunately subject to a lot of ridicule and greenwashing practices. Without the necessary and speedy education for the “volunteers” and the for-profit companies out to pounce on goodwill, this problem will only get worse.

    For me, the worst part is that these greenwashing companies are taking money away from the small, grassroots, non-profit organisations and social enterprises that should be benefitting from people who want to do good. These are the organisations that need to be rewarded, but unfortunately a lot of the time they get left behind because of these larger foreign companies.

    My wife and I have never paid to be part of a volunteering project – a lot of the time the organisations we work with help us find accommodation in a nearby town or allow us to find our own, which just goes to show they’re not in it for the money. If a company is charging you extortionate amounts of money to be part of a program, then you should indeed scrutinise where every penny goes.

    • Well said Fabio. I agree it is absolutely disgusting that for profit companies siphon off goodwill and funds that should be going to genuine causes and they should be ashamed of themselves.

  11. Excellent article, thank you. We need more accounts like this that don’t mince their words. We have the same battle in wildlife volunteering.

  12. This is an important discussion and one that I fear will run and run. Voluntourism is a controversial subject and often for good reason but it is important to remember that in every sector and every industry there are good and bad examples and many in-between.

    When looking for a worthwhile volunteering opportunity it often takes only a little research to separate the good from the bad. The questions that you list in your article are a great starting point for potential volunteers, across all volunteer sectors, to read, consider and ask to avoid disappointing experiences.

    Despite the problems and potential pitfalls, volunteering can be transformative for communities and projects and the individual volunteers involved. There are many examples of organisations working very hard to deliver projects that benefit their hosts and participants and there is also a strong movement within the sector trying to improve standards.

    • I agree Richard there definitely is good and bad in every sector, and I am always careful to separate the good side of volunteering from the bad voluntourism. For profit agencies and the gap year/voluntourism industry has no place in the volunteering world in my opinion, and should be publicly shamed into changing their ways to either become a real force for good or disappear entirely.

  13. Will Bowie says:

    I have been waiting for an article like this…volunteering can be straight up exploration and tugging on the heart strings! Research is critical to ensure you get the ‘real thing’ A very gray area of tourism…

    • It definitely is, for the traveller at least. What annoys me is these gap year industry providers know exactly what they are doing, and they rely on the fact most new travellers will not know any different to look past the ‘volunteering’ greenwash and they will fall for it. These for profit companies are taking advantage, and they are taking resources away from genuine NGOs and causes.

  14. Simone Lye says:

    I agree it is seriously important to do your research before signing up for anything like this! Most do more harm than good!

  15. Thank you for this entry. When I’ve heard of volontourism for the first time I was amazed by the idea. Then I did some research and got rather skeptical and bittersweet about it. I’m aware that there are organizations doing truly amazing job, but it’s not easy to find them anymore…that’s why we need to talk about it more. I think bloggers are the perfect people to raise awareness on this issue and inform people how to volunteer in a way that will really support local communities.

    • Thank you Zofia I’m glad you liked it. I agree these organisations are appalling and should be ashamed of themselves for essentially conning people and stealing funds that could be going to genuine causes. I think the good organisations are easy to find, it’s just a matter of informing and educating travellers on what to look for, what questions to ask and also be aware of how they can help dependent on their skills and qualifications (or lack of). Thanks for the comment.

  16. I think this is a great article to make people really think about volunteering. I do believe it is fantastic that people want to go out into the world and do good (even for a short time during a gap year) and I wouldn’t take away from them their experiences. I taught English for a few months on my gap year and saw a positive difference talking & coaching the students. I’m happy to have paid and I don’t think I was sold a lie. It’s sad that some companies do take people for a ride but I don’t think they should all be judged in the same way

    • Thank you Kate, I too think that urge/need to do something good is a fantastic thing and should be encouraged, but like I said it needs to be encouraged in the right way. I obviously can’t speak for your individual experience as I know nothing about the organisation involved, but I will say although you may feel you have done good, how do you know? Did you ask these questions of the NGO beforehand? Did they give adequate answers? I’m instantly wary of any org that charges money for that exact reason. Also, I never said I judge all in the same way. Quite the opposite in fact. I’ve volunteered numerous times as a nurse and a medic myself for genuine organisations working in conflict zones and areas where a real difference was made, and I know there are many genuine and amazing orgs that are exactly what volunteering should be. Of those that charge, there are those that are legitimate and only charge volunteers to cover their room and board, which is absolutely fair enough and the work they do is great. What I am talking about here however is the other side to that, those organisations that make profit from volunteering, who have no discernable benefit to any community or cause, who essentially greenwash their travel experiences with a volunteer sticker and syphon profits from funds that should go to genuine causes. Unfortunately Kate this is a huge multi million pound industry and they are more than just a small percentage, and I make no apology at all for pointing a finger at them and exposing them.

  17. What a great article Mike. Many thanks for sharing this information, hopefully will reach to those travelers willing to help and fall for this false voluntourism programs only looking for profit but not giving any good to a community but the farms, hotels or similar owners.

  18. Aileen says:

    I’ve never tried volunteering for my travel lifestyle; but I have thought about it once (and might try one for the future). So this post of yours is really insightful. It really helps to be informed as must as possible about what any wannabe-volunteer would encounter or do.

  19. Aileen says:

    I’ve never tried volunteering for my travel lifestyle; but I have thought about it once (and might try one for the future). So this post of yours is really insightful. It really helps to be informed as must as possible about what any wannabe-volunteer would encounter or do…

    • It definitely does Aileen. Volunteering can be an amazing thing, when it is done right. I hope my post gave you a little food for thought on what to look out for when you volunteer yourself?

  20. Great article, thanks for that.
    Since I started travelling alone I have found volunteering a great way to explore the world. I have been lucky to find some very worthwhile org helping wild life. I have gladly handed over my hard earned cash because I knew it was a way for them to fund raise to support their work. I also accepted that any work I did, did not in anyway make a huge difference in the bigger scheme of things since I don’t have the necessarily skills to do so. The exception to this is doing the grunt work at Jaguar Rescue Centre in Costa Rica. They would never be able to pay the locals to do it but they did hire them to do the more skilled work, like gift shop and tour guides. I was good with that.
    As time goes by I have become more careful and more sensitive to the good and the bad. Giving money to a good cause and getting a great experience in return is fair in my book as long as I am not taking a job away or hurting the wildlife.
    That’s my 2 bits.

    • Thank you. I think you fail to see the wider picture though. If you donate to a good cause then all the best to you, that’s grand. Likewise if you want to have a good ‘experience’ and pay for it, that’s great too, just don’t call it volunteering. Volunteering isn’t about YOUR experience. It isn’t about making you feel better about yourself.
      You say you are happy to give money away as long as … but what questions are you asking to ensure that the money is going to the right places? What questions are you asking to ensure these ‘experiences’ are genuinely helping both the cause and the community in the short term but also the wider conservation/responsible tourism concerns in the long term? It’s good at least that you recognize qualified skills are important when placing the right volunteer in the right job, but does a genuine org really need a tour guide? Obviously I can’t comment on your experiences because I don’t know the specifics, but giving money to a ‘good cause’ (in the loosest sense of the term) in return for a good experience is the essence of voluntourism, and that is not in my book good volunteering.

  21. Sheila Allum says:

    Very interesting article. I run a small charity in Langkawi (NGO status) looking after underprivileged families and we do not ‘advertise’ that we need volunteers who are travelling in gap years etc, as we cannot cope with the logistics and a lot depends on what we have on at the time. However, we often have travellers who contact us direct wanting to help and have been happy to arrange for them to do house painting (only once per house!), teaching English etc etc. It has worked well for us and the volunteers too!

    • That is slightly different Sheila, I’m assuming here you are a community run charity and you aren’t charging these volunteers huge sums of money to come and do menial tasks such as house painting which you then pass onto a multinational corporation without seeing a penny? The ‘volunteering’ in this sense is not really ‘volunteering’, it is travellers essentially doing a good deed for an NGO who are themselves trying to do good, and there isn’t anything wrong with that. I do take issue slightly with the teaching English, as I believe for that to do real good it has to be long term with qualified professionals, and the short term conveyor belt mentality can cause more harm than good, but I don’t know enough about your specific operation to say anything one way or the other.

      • sheila allum says:

        Hi thanks for your thoughts. Yes we are a volunteer NGO ourselves and we charge nothing if people want to help and we are able to. The English teaching doesn’t happen often but in the particular school who benefit from this at primary level it works well for them and helps to supplement their own efforts.

  22. Ben says:

    This was a huge eye opener for me, ill be honest I had no idea about the issues behind it all and I was one of those people who wanted to volunteer somewhere. Thanks so much for this article, ill do some more research on it and if I do ever volunteer it will hopefully be with a decent org that will actually make a difference.

  23. Joanne says:

    Another amazing post, this is such an important topic and one that I feel really passionate about after being an inch away from being suckered in by one of the unethical companies you mentioned (and almost losing a lot of money in the process!)

  24. Jules says:

    YES! I loved reading this and so agree with you. Voluntourism companies really need to be called out on their crap.

  25. Aiden says:

    I had suspected something along these lines after going to STA travel to look at flights and having them try and sell a load of ‘experiences’ to me, and then seeing just how popular some of them were. I never knew all the ins and outs of the situation though, thanks for the information

  26. Iain says:

    About time these big firms were called out! Good man!

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