“Voluntourism” is fast becoming the trend for both young and old travellers who want to experience the culture of their destination in depth and spend more time engaging with local people. It has also been a source of controversial reports regarding the impact on communities and the potential for exploitation of children and other disadvantaged sectors of the society into which volunteers impose themselves. In this article, we meet Ingrid, an Australian volunteer who has come to Kenya, and Ben, who runs a community-based organisation in Nairobi’s slums which hosts foreign volunteers. They offer their advice to people considering including some volunteering in their travels volunteer remote.
1. Talk to someone who is familiar with the project you will be volunteering at and ask questions
Most volunteering experiences are found in developing countries, in cultures that are vastly different to what we are generally used to in the developed world. And the projects most volunteers go to are located in slums or disadvantaged areas of that developing country. If you do not know what to expect, the culture shock can be disarming.
Ingrid tells of her experience of not getting adequate information before arriving in Kenya:
“The organisation I signed up with is based in Australia so they weren’t able to give detailed answers to some of my questions about the program in Kenya. I also never got the chance to talk with, Skype or see any local staff until I walked out of the airport in Nairobi. If I got the chance to relive the experience I would make sure this was something the volunteer organisation offered and/or that they had a representative who had recently visited the volunteer program in Kenya who I could talk to.”
“Ask lots of questions before you sign up for anything – it is so worth being a question pest rather than leaving (and paying) for the unknown. If you have any friends or family who have volunteered, ask them what they thought, if they would recommend their program and first hand advice.”