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Travel Volunteering – is there anything wrong with it?

Travel Volunteering - is there anything wrong with it?

Thousands of people go abroad to volunteer each year. Volunteer traveling is one of the biggest growth markets now. Even a lot of young people are send abroad hoping to experience something out of volunteering. And some of the people who are reading this post may have decided once or even may have pursued a volunteering program in their life. But, has anyone ask this question whether is there anything really going wrong with volunteer traveling? Whether the initiative we take when we travel to the other parts of the developing world hoping to trying to make a difference or make world a better place, is that really happening in the longer run?

Travel Volunteering

But first, let me be honest and put it straight, I  have personally not done any Volunteering travel yet, but being brought up in a country like India, I know a bit about how life actually works in a developing country and that is the reason I have decided to share my thoughts about it!

Well from the moment my passion of travel begin, I have been reading about volunteering travel quite a while and I thought lot of people travel every year to explore such opportunities so why not I try to do it myself. It make sense right? So, I started to google out all the volunteering options in India and began to read about them. I was having this conception that to volunteer is to give something to society, maybe you are expert in something that you will be involved in such similar activities or maybe anything random where you could help! Well partly it was true but what I didn’t knew was for even doing that you will have to pay something in the end. These Volunteering agencies were like another set of travel agents who were making package tours for people to come and help the poor in need. When I tried to send inquiries to them to offer help, I never got any response! Wondering why? Well how would they be able to sell a travel package tour to someone living locally!? That was the first time it made me think that is it really one face of travel volunteering!

Lets keep this travel part one side and understand what do the people get to offer when they travel for volunteering.  Most of the time I have noticed is that they are offered to teach orphanage children related to anything, language, music, dancing etc. or even they are connected to some public schools in remote villages. When these young people get involve with these vulnerable children trying to teach them, they believe they are going through some therapeutic self conscious healing in their life. But little do they know what could be the reality happening in the shadows. What it does that it gives rise to “Orphanage tourism”. Where there is money there is business and doesn’t matter what shape or form it comes, it will happen! That’s the cruel truth of developing countries. These volunteering agencies ties up with mere orphanages and invite travelers in lust of earning money. These orphanages then ties up with extreme poor living families to send their children to their orphanages or even abducts them in order showcase them to these regular hoards of travelers. And these vulnerable innocent children who are sometimes separated from their living parents just play along unknowingly. Well this is another part which makes me think sometimes is that what our young generation signed up for in the name of volunteer traveling?

I currently live in New Delhi and everyday when I am driving and crossing a red light,  small children beggars approaches me requesting to give some money to eat something. Sometimes I saw some ladies carrying small babies in their arms and begging for any money they could get. What do you think a normal light heart-ed person would do at that moment? you would want to donate some money to help those poor people right? or maybe that what people traveling from another corner of the world would think of doing at that moment! It make sense right? But if they knew the reality behind all this, they will do the exactly opposite. Those little babies which are carried in the arms of the ladies are drugged everyday so that they could remain calm in their hands all the time. Those vulnerable children are abducted and forced to beg everyday. They are fixed a daily cost which they have to earn from begging and give to the person who runs this entire begging nexus. So donating even a single penny would end up promoting this begging industry in itself. The only thing I give to these children when they approach me is some food which I am carrying with me sometimes which can be fruits, candies etc. anything I could get hold of! why? because they eat those things at the very moment and they don’t have to give it back to their superiors.

So what we need to do to make volunteering possible? We really need to learn first before we can offer to help others. The reason why I have not participated yet in any volunteering exercise is because I am still on the learning phases, trying to find the right path rather than causing more harm than doing any good. And that’s what all the parents need to teach their kids this lesson before sending them abroad to participate in volunteering programs.  And that also applies to the young generation like us who wants to do something in life!

I recently visited an NGO named “Goonj” who seems to be doing a great job here in India. Though I still don’t 100% vouch for them, but after visiting their service center, I was really amazed by the work they are doing within the community.

Recycling service area at Goonj
Recycling service area at Goonj
A photograph depicting ways of community interaction at Goonj
A photograph depicting ways of community interaction at Goonj

What it does is it recycles all the rejected clothes and household they get from people in donation and covert them into useful products to distribute it to the poor or in need. And by rejected means anything you think you want to dump in your home, literally anything! They have very thoughtfully made each and every section of how they utilize anything that comes to them in donations and properly segregate and recycles everything in a thought-provoking manner even the Sanitary napkins! Wikipedia says, it collects and delivers 1,000 tons of material every year through a network of 500 volunteers and 250 partners. And there way of donation/distribution is not simple as it sounds, they do that in the form of community interaction and self learning process where the communities has to work together in the benefits of their growth!

For me it was a learning process to understand how volunteering can be really done in life. How much thoughts and efforts and perseverance we have to put in to actually make that happen and it is not just a flip of coin. And that is what I believe people from the traveling community needs to do. They need to first learn and understand the complexities involve in the phases of volunteering and then implement them later in the most efficient ways possible!

So tell me what do you think? Have you done any volunteering in life? What was your experience? Or what is your thoughts on volunteer traveling? Please feel free to share any comments or even any stories you have come across on travel volunteering! 🙂

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