We are two weeks into this new year (and decade!) and The Traveling Volunteer continues to grow. We have several goals this year. One, in particular, is to increase engagement with the variety of people segments actively involved in a traveling to volunteer experience. Namely – the volunteer traveler, the community member, the nonprofit leader, the tourism representative, and you, the reader, who may or may not fill one of these roles. Because, regardless of any group titles…
You are part of the global community.
How will engagement be increased you ask? Through social media platform posts, the #iamthiscommunity challenge, group meetings, research (interviews and surveys), and other innovative ways yet to be revealed, all with the intention of connecting traveling volunteer people groups with each other.
But our reach has changed.
To strengthen our mission of engaging people within the traveling to volunteer space, we have decided to narrow our focus on very short term volunteering opportunities in USA and Canada. By short term, we mean between 2 – 5 hours of deep, impactful volunteering. We found that trying to reach a very large global audience did not give us the deeper impact we wanted that could otherwise be gained in a smaller geographical region. But wait –
If you are not from USA or Canada – this still includes you!
If you plan on traveling to, or traveling within, the USA or Canada, The Traveling Volunteer aims to be your intermediary by offering you short-term volunteering opportunities while at your US or Canadian destination. We strongly believe the connection developed through traveling to volunteer experiences is life-changing. To do this, we trust we will have a greater global impact because we have specialised our reach on a smaller scale. Having said this, if you do not plan on traveling to volunteer in USA or Canada, we have a special projects team worldwide. It is through them, we will continue to curate and offer potential short term volunteering opportunities as the need arises.
To start, we will be offering our volunteering opportunities on this website.
While we have plans to grow and partner with larger booking sites, at the moment, we will be using The Traveling Volunteer website to feature short term volunteering opportunities in specific USA markets. We will be testing these opportunities in the next few months, and letting you know how you can participate and book any of them.
We are excited for the year ahead and look forward to engaging with you through events, social media outlets and more! We are working hard to provide you with volunteering opportunities for you to deeply connect with, and make a difference in, a community you visit. We believe through a traveling to volunteer experience, all participants can say #iamthiscommunity because of the connection they have made to this place.
You might have seen the #iamthiscommunity hashtag pop up in social media outlets lately and are wondering what its’ all about. Or perhaps you’ve wandered over to this Page regardless if you’ve seen this hashtag or not. So, what is the meaning of this challenge?
To showcase your community
Where you live brings up a certain imagery and connections. Warmth. Excitement. Frustration (yes, even that). It’s the place you call home. But your community is unique. The location. Climate. Food. Events. Attractions. Volunteering opportunities.* It doesn’t stop there. There is another meaning to this challenge…
To feature traveled to volunteer communities
When volunteers travel they become part of the community they volunteer in. Through this type of engagement, they leave a lasting imprint to remain indefinitely part of that community. As a result, both residents and traveling volunteers can say #iamthiscommunity due to their collective connection to the place.
We want to focus on “all things great” about your place of residence, and the communities you’ve traveled to volunteer. A chance to brag! BUT particularly on local volunteering opportunities for travelers to consider AND volunteer experiences you had when you traveled. So, how do I participate?
Through social media outlets
Log into your Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter accounts. (Actually, log into each one and do this for all of your social media outlets!).
Choose picture(s) that represents your community. Is it that waterfall that you all hike to and recommend others to join in? How about that bustling downtown core? What about a walk around the block from your house? Or that image of that scrumptious dessert you had at your favorite foodie location?
Upload and tag it with: #iamthiscommunity #(your city/town/village/area) #(your country), #thetravelingvolunteer
Explain why you chose your picture(s). Don’t forget this part!
Choose picture(s) that represent your favorite local volunteering opportunity. Is it your local animal shelter? What about a unique hands on experience with a cultural group only available in your community? Or connecting with local community members through beach cleanups or forest restoration?
Upload and tag it with: #iamthiscommunity #(your city/town/village/area) #(your country), #thetravelingvolunteer #(the organisation) #(theme of organisation)
Explain why you chose your picture(s). Don’t forget this part because The Traveling Volunteer will be choosing volunteer opportunities for travelers from this list!!
Choose picture(s) that represented your traveling to volunteer experience. Who did you meet? What did you do? Tell us all about it.
Same as above.
Same as above.
Same as above.
WHEW! You might not be able to showcase a traveling to volunteer opportunity if you have never been, just post pictures of your community. This is fine! However, we are also encouraging people to post local volunteering opportunities for travelers, and traveling to volunteer experiences where you can.
Continue to check back often as we will be developing this campaign as time goes on. I hear there might be some merchandise in the works…! JOIN IN, you just might get a picture featured and a shoutout to your Page or Profile or Account!
Voluntourist, volunteer tourist, digital nomad volunteer, volunteers who travel, international volunteer, the traveling volunteer, paid-to-volunteer-experience-when-traveling, finding a free- place- to-live-in-a foreign-community-while volunteering adventurer, and the list goes on. There are so many terms to describe the person volunteering outside their home-front, and within this activity, so many elements attached to it such as: length of time, cost, skills needed (or not) and what project(s) to volunteer for. However, there is another topic lurking within this mainstream societal topic that should be addressed.
Is there a “best” traveling volunteer?
I think most people would agree, to be known as a Peace Corps volunteer, for example, is a good thing! They have historically provided a valuable service to the community so their reputation is well deserved. But what about the one time event volunteer, such as the beach-cleaner-upper? The travellers that “only” spend an afternoon outside their vacation time to volunteer to clean up a local beach over-run by trash? Is their contribution to the destination community less valuable than work of their Peace Corps friends? Typically this type of minimal volunteering or what I call “soft volunteering” on a predominately tourism-focused trip is viewed as less worthy. But why?
Contemporary society says there’s a “best” and labels all such activities.
Last fall I wrote a blog post about various terms (labels) to describe the activity of traveling to volunteer and if any one of these labels really matters to the general public. Then, now months later, it appears it still does. The term voluntourism, for example, has a stigma associated with it and is labelled as bad. On a recent discussion board, in a free-accommodation-for-volunteering-site, a poster said they were not a voluntourism site because they only featured volunteering opportunities that provided free accommodation. After some reflection I replied – a volunteering opportunity with free accommodation does not necessarily mean it is better.
I say a “best” depends on community impact.
Oh I agree. To spend a large sum of money to essentially pad a sending organisation’s pockets is not what I support. I recognise (and support) community projects that utilise long term skilled volunteers and agree with the same discussion-board-poster who implored people should not be “paying for a poverty experience.” Many labels have been rightfully applied to many organisations because of how they’ve conducted themselves and exploited marginalised communities. But by applying a mismatched or ill-informed label on an entire group of volunteers unfortunately cheapens the effort of a traveling volunteer’s community give-back based on the negative activities of some. This is not doing us (common planet dwellers) any good. So, what is a solution?
The “best” traveling volunteer is well-informed and participates in dialogue.
Being an educated and dialogue-seeking individual may be a flippant answer to what is a “best” traveling volunteer… but, I cannot get away from the importance of this. If people, whether traveling solo to volunteer or in groups, armed themselves with more information about, for example, accessible community reports that show objectives met by the sending organisation, understanding the cultural context in which they will be working with, or creating a dialogue with community members once in (and out of) country, I believe this will change popular media’s labelling of traveling volunteer activity as “all things bad.” How? Because active engagement between all traveling volunteer players (community, organisation and volunteers) will ultimately focus on the most important recipients (and drivers) of any development project: the community.
I believe the traveling volunteer has the power to change current negative labelling through the purposeful actions they take before, during, and after a volunteering experience. Ultimately it is what the traveling volunteer chooses to call out, focus on, and move forward with that will change the narrative.
Will you be that “best” traveling volunteer?
*Featured image by Jazael Melgoza (Venture With Impact)
Not long ago I had a conversation with an individual who was thinking about traveling to volunteer. They were struggling with elements related to this activity, such as, how much money it would cost; the necessary time off from work; and what skills (if any) would be required. Although the conservation varied, the discussion tended to stay focused on the topic of skills-based volunteering. Many questions emerged. Should they consider utilising their skills, or would a great attitude be enough? Do community projects really need skilled volunteers, or does it really matter? While there may be some merits associated with needed unskilled labor in some contexts, such as clearing trash from ocean-side beaches, according to academic research, skills-based volunteering does matter. Here are top four reasons why.
Satisfied Volunteers. Traveling volunteers who are skill-matched with a community project tend to be more satisfied overall with the volunteering experience than those who are not matched because they expect their skills will meet specific project objectives. When project objectives are met, they likely feel a sense of satisfaction because their work made a difference to the community. On the other hand, take for example, a volunteer who is expected to work on a construction project when they do not have the skill set to do so. As a result, a build might take longer than necessary (or in extreme cases, aspects needed to be redone), produce higher costs (if walls need to be repainted for example, then more product needs to be purchased), leading to volunteer (and community) dissatisfaction with the process. For skilled volunteers and unskilled volunteers, satisfaction/dissatisfaction levels tend to appear on opposite sides of the satisfaction spectrum. Skilled volunteers are also likely to become repeat volunteers, which most likely leads to sustainable community development.
Build Capital and Lessen Dependence. Highly skilled traveling volunteers are effective at building local and organisational capacity, producing noticeable social capital, and creating community partnerships. Projects utilising expert volunteers leans toward being community driven, meaning the community has had input into the type of project needing expert foreign volunteers. In addition, expert volunteers may find themselves as catalysts for partnership development between community-driven projects. Due to skilled volunteers contributing to local capacity and social capital building, community partnerships have the potential to create community empowerment. An empowered community may, in turn, stop long-term colonial-like dependency on foreign assistance.
Venture With Impact
Development Outcomes. Clearly defined project objectives and measurable goals should be accessible for skilled volunteers, so they can make knowledgeable decisions about who they may volunteer with, and where the activity takes place. Accountability and transparency of project reporting tends to be linked with specific development outcomes and highly desired skilled-to-project-matched volunteers. Simply said, skilled volunteers are one of many driving forces in keeping an organisation accountable for development in a foreign community. Skilled traveling volunteers also have the propensity to be interested in understanding individual community member perspectives on how a project, for example, is personally impacting them. Project organisers understand skilled volunteer interest in community voices and respond with reporting community member impact stories.
Hives For Haiti: Garry Training
Sustainable Program Development. Sustainable development is much more than a green thinking type of development, it is, according to a popular featured in the 1987 Brundtland Report, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” When traveling volunteers offer their skills to a community, they are not only impacting the current generation of community members but future generations. Skilled-to-project matched volunteers tend be part of the sustainability thinking group. They not only base their decisions on the transparency of development outcomes, but look for projects that are mindful of social, economic, and environmental sustainable community impacts. Project creators/managers who desire these sustainably-minded-skilled volunteers, consider these criteria when developing a project. As a result, the community benefits not only from sustainably-driven volunteers, but the subsequent program is developed with sustainability objectives in mind.
Venture With Impact: Lisbon by Joel Filipe
It is apparent skilled traveling volunteers, matched with projects that support these skills, makes the most sense for community development. Not only are skilled volunteers more satisfied with their experience, but projects, developed with skilled based volunteers in mind, have the tendency to build social capital and lessen community dependency on foreign assistance. Skilled volunteers also have powerful influence over sustainable project development outcomes for current, and future, community members. After all, people who decide to volunteer nationally or internationally, want to know they actually made a difference in that community. What better way, than to use their skills to do so.
Brundtland, G., Khalid, M., Agnelli, S., Al-Athel, S., Chidzero, B., Fadika, L., … & Singh, M. (1987). Our common future (\’brundtland report\’).
Hernandez‐Maskivker, G., Lapointe, D., & Aquino, R. (2018). The impact of volunteer tourism on local communities: A managerial perspective. International Journal of Tourism Research, 20(5), 650-659.
Knollenberg, W., McGehee, N. G., Boley, B. B., & Clemmons, D. (2014). Motivation-based transformative learning and potential volunteer tourists: Facilitating more sustainable outcomes. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 22(6), 922-941.
Lough, B. J., & Oppenheim, W. (2017). Revisiting reciprocity in international volunteering. Progress in Development Studies, 17(3), 197-213.
Lough, B. J., & Tiessen, R. (2018). How do international volunteering characteristics influence outcomes? Perspectives from partner organizations. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 29(1), 104-118.
Perold, H., Graham, L. A., Mavungu, E. M., Cronin, K., Muchemwa, L., & Lough, B. J. (2013). The colonial legacy of international voluntary service. Community Development Journal, 48(2), 179-196.
Thomas, R., & Long, J. (2001). Tourism and economic regeneration: the role of skills development. International Journal of Tourism Research, 3(3), 229-240.
Traveling to volunteer has had a lot of press coverage lately, but unfortunately most of it focuses on the negative impacts of this activity. Critics suggest traveling to volunteer (also known as volunteer tourism or voluntourism) can, for example, promote White Saviour thinking or mismatched projects that are not sustainable. However it does not have to be this way! To avoid negative consequences related to travel volunteering, volunteer tourists should become sustainably-minded decision-makers before making any commitments to go. Here are four top considerations to think about.
Personality traits and motivation. Prior to proceeding with a favourite project, travel volunteers should examine what personality traits they possess, and question how these traits might behave in a traveling to volunteer setting. How outgoing am I? Am I flexible? Can I be calm if a situation becomes unruly? If you think you are easily stressed by day-to-day living, you might need to examine how you might act if challenged in a foreign context. In addition to understanding your personality traits, you should decipher what is motivating you to go and whether the particular journey is well-aligned with this motive, or whether a different one might be more appropriate. Some popular motives to volunteer outside of one’s community include wanting to experience a new culture, adding to a resume, and giving back to society.
Skill to project matching. While thoughtfully reflecting on personality traits and motives for going, volunteer tourists should seek organisations that intentionally match volunteers’ skills with community projects. This is important to understand because program to skill matched volunteers are likely to be repeat volunteers, which can lead to sustainable community impacts. In 2017 I spent just over 5 weeks researching the US based nonprofit Daraja Music Initiative that focuses on music and conservation education with select Moshi, Tanzanian youth each summer. This organisation, like many others, is a good example of a sending entity that intentionally seeks skilled volunteers to match their community initiative. As a result, not only do multiple passionate volunteers return each year, but deep relational community bonds have been formed.
Local community collaboration. It is not enough to find a skill-to-project matched opportunity, a pre-trip volunteer should understand how the organisation (who is featuring the opportunity) works with the local community. Who, for example, is leading the project? Is it community run, or internationally driven? In addition, is the organisation partnering and collaborating with other community organisations, and/or international agencies or working independently to push their own agenda? Collaboration generates knowledge through the process of group interaction and shared problem solving. It is one key concept of sustainability.
Objectives, measurements and reports. The traveling volunteer who is a sustainably-minded decision-maker, looks for organisational projects that have clearly defined project objectives, measurable objectives, and if past project reports are available for viewing. In other words, does the organisation’s website feature project impacts, and if so, how were they measured? It is important to keep in mind any project reports or informational updates on websites should include impact stories from community members’ perspectives as well.
Once one considers these different elements, one is in a better position to assess which alternative, if any, is most appropriate. Although it may seem somewhat anticlimactic to suggest, sometimes the best option is to stay home and look for other ways to support a community project, such as volunteering online or close to home.