Five Ways to Be a Better Volunteer
Right now, short term mission trips are extremely popular. So many people want to help with overseas missions. And so many of us go overseas with the best of intentions, with every desire to help and make a lasting impact. But sometimes . . . good intentions alone aren't enough.
Read this list for five ways to make sure your overseas volunteering isn’t doing more harm than good.
1. Donate money to organizations that you trust.
I know, I know. Donating money isn’t really the same as volunteering. But hear me out! Sometimes, the amount of money that it costs to go on a missions trip can be used much more effectively on other things. Prayerfully consider whether or not it is worth it to spend that money on a plane ticket, or whether or not you could donate the cost of a trip straight toward helping those in need.
2. Do your research!
It’s important to do your research before traveling with any organization! Unfortunately, there are organizations that will take advantage of well-meaning volunteers, and who don’t operate with the best intention of the host-country in mind. If an organization doesn’t have a good screening process for their volunteers, that would be a red flag. Make sure to be smart and discerning about the organizations you travel with!
3. Refuse to participate in things like “Orphanage Tours” while on vacations or mission trips.
Sometimes travel agencies will add on visits to an orphanage as part of your travel itinerary. They treat it like an attraction. But oftentimes, these orphanages are not reputable institutions. In this situation, they’re letting unscreened tourists come in and play with the children living there. Think about it: this would never fly in the United States. These are real kids with real sets of issues.
Tacking on an orphanage to the end of a trip full of safaris and sight seeing is disrespectful to these real life issues and trauma that the kids are dealing with. On top of that, these trips are often aiding an exploitive industry.
4. Consider your motives before you travel.
It’s always good to be aware of why we do the things we do. Are you entering these communities with the mentality that you have the answers to solve their problems? Are you volunteering purely because you want to promote a certain image of yourself, or want to feel good about yourself? Being this self aware is difficult, but necessary to healthy relationships with the communities you are visiting. Understanding your weaknesses, and being open to learning and being humbled on the trip is incredibly important.
5. Consider the long term effects your involvement will have on the local community.
Is your project taking away from the local economy? Are you completing projects for communities that require upkeep beyond their capability, or completing tasks that they could do themselves? Are you performing work that you are not necessarily qualified to be doing? Before you head overseas, these are questions you should ask yourself. You want to make sure that you make a positive impact on the people you are serving, as well as walk away from the experience having learned a lot yourself.
Volunteering overseas can be a beautiful and enriching experience for those who go to serve, and for those who are served. Both parties have so much to offer each other. Hopefully, you found this list helpful as you consider how you're going to be involved. If you're looking for more information on doing good with your volunteer work instead of unintentional harm, check out the book When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. We all just want to help. And these are ways to make sure that we do.