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Voluntourism 101

by Julie Schwietert Mar 10, 2009

The idea of volunteer vacations has become so popular so quickly that the word “voluntourism” has gained currency outside the travel and volunteer communities.

Lots of travelers are interested in spending part or all of their travels with their sleeves rolled up, but many aren’t sure how to scope out opportunities and select a project.

This weekend, while hosting a discussion on Facebook about travel writing and voluntourism for the Voluntary Traveler Book Project, I was asked by one participant:

“I am interested (some time in the near future) heading overseas and volunteering. What would be your tips in researching/finding international volunteer positions (i.e. credible organisations, experience etc.)?”

If you have the same question, three useful online resources can help you identify organizations around the world that are actively seeking volunteers:

1. Matador Travel:

Matador’s community blog has more than 364 organizational members in locations around the world. Enjoy cycling? See how biking is incorporated into voluntourism by checking out The Otesha Project’s profile. Want to go off-grid? Check out the Mirror Foundation’s profile.

You can search for organizations by name, area of focus, or location. Be sure to review how fully the organization has filled out its profile and whether contact information is provided. If you’re interested in the organization, reach out to the listed contact and ask if you can speak with a current or former volunteer.

2. Idealist:

Since 1995, Idealist has been the Internet’s go-to spot for information about jobs and internships in the non-profit field, and the recent addition of the International Volunteerism Resource Center makes Idealist THE definitive online reference for voluntourism as well.

The IVRC provides fact sheets on topics you may not even have considered yet: the ethics of voluntourism, the costs associated with volunteering abroad, and “in country dos, don’ts, and probably shouldn’ts.” Perhaps most useful is the IVRC’s list of questions to ask the organizations with which you’re considering sharing your efforts.

3. Voluntourism blends the Matador and Idealist models, listing organizations seeking volunteers as well as providing tips for prospective voluntourists.

The best feature of Voluntourism, though, is its webcast/podcast series, The VolunTourist, which is broadcast weekly. The VolunTourist features interviews with organizational leaders, helping you learn more about the organizations listed on the site. At present, more than 70 podcasts are archived on the site.

Community Connection:

Have you been a voluntourist? What resources did you use to choose an organization? What questions would you ask before seeking another voluntourism opportunity? Share your comments below.

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