Learning service as an effective alternative to voluntourism

“Maybe I’d like it there if I was volunteering in an orphanage and got to play with the kids.”


I slapped my hands over my face, shaking my head. I’ve been living in Cambodia for over three months now and probably haven’t been Skyping my best friend back home as much as I should, but I couldn’t believe she still had no idea what I was actually doing here.


Work-mode took over and I began spitting out numbers like, in Cambodia over 75% of the children in orphanages aren’t actually orphans at all and even though the number of orphans is decreasing the number of orphanages is increasing with the rate of tourism. I explained how visiting and volunteering at orphanages can perpetuate child exploitation.


“I didn’t know that,” was all she said after I’d finished my spiel.


Had my friend acted on her desire to volunteer, not just at an orphanage but anywhere, she’d be bombarded with an overwhelming number of options, good and bad. When you’re surrounded by talk on development and the effects of volunteering it’s easy to forget run-of-the-mill voluntourism projects can be indistinguishable from programs making sustainable contributions to those hearing about it for the first time. Even though I know spending a week painting a classroom will unlikely make any kind of difference in the local community my friend may see it as an excellent opportunity to “give-back”.


– See more at: http://www.whydev.org/learning-services-alternatives-to-voluntourism/#sthash.n9eJrJfL.dpuf

Learning Service; a constructive approach to volunteering via Volunteer in Cambodia

February 9, 2014

by Eleanor Paton


Overseas volunteering has had its fair share of bad press.  Tales of orphanage tourism in particular make for depressing reading. Report after report touches on similar practices; children kept in poverty so that volunteers continue to donate, orphanages that ignore volunteers’ concerns about the children’s wellbeing and an unhealthy process of attachment between the volunteers and children. *


Even where orphanages aren’t involved there is many a pitfall for the well -meaning volunteer.  Yes, of course, helping to build a hospital or school in a developing country seems like a nice idea. But in practice there is little logic to shipping in unskilled Westerners to do local jobs, probably poorly.


So what then, if you are thinking of volunteering, if you do want to ‘do good’? Google it, and wonder at the plethora of ways you may accidentally join a process of exploitation. Or, indeed, find your own intentions and finances exploited.  Whilst these cautions are both worthy and necessary, we also have to find ways of encouraging people to help out. For as many warnings as we provide, the development community must also show prospective volunteers how they can genuinely contribute.


Continue reading on the Volunteer in Cambodia blog!



10 Years on From DiA and I’m Still Learning… via Development in Action

Ten years on from volunteering with Development in Action Mandarin Bennet is still passionate about ensuring that international volunteering has a lasting impact and ethical underpinning. Here writes about what she has learnt (and continues to learn) since her time with DiA. 


I became the UK coordinator for Development in Action nearly a decade ago. What drew me to DiA was that its philosophy on volunteering and development was exactly in line with what I had learned experientially after a year volunteering in Nepal.


I volunteered with a rural development organization straight after I graduated from university. Every time I thought I could offer a solution or way of contributing, I would realize that it wasn’t so simple. In fact, the more I looked into the root causes of the problems faced in Nepal, the more I discovered how closely interlinked they were with issues back in the UK. I remember thinking that whatever small contribution my presence could offer to a remote Nepali community, I would be able to have a more powerful impact on the same issues as an activist and educator in my own country.


Continue reading on the Development in Action blog!

“I really believe that an open debate about how we can best volunteer is the only productive way of finding out what does and doesn’t work in the voluntary sector.”

As you can probably tell our Learning Service team is dedicated to providing insightful resources to help you make informed decisions when you travel and volunteer. We recently began releasing a series of videos full of tips for how to make the most of your time abroad and enlisted some like-minded individuals to help us spread the word.


Our Learning Service Ambassador team spans the globe and represents four different continents! Eleanor, today’s featured ambassador, currently lives and works in Cambodia and lucky for us, took some time to share about her own volunteer experiences and why she believes in the Learning Service movement.


Learning Service: Tell me about any past volunteering experience.


Eleanor: I have volunteered at home and overseas.  As a student at Durham I volunteered for Amnesty International and at University College London I was a member of the Student Human Rights Project. I have also done voluntary social media work for a UK based charity called the Social Breakfast. In Cambodia I volunteered as a teacher for Conversations with Foreigners and as a monitor on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal with the Asian International Justice Initiative.


LS: What made you interested in volunteering?


E: I was interested in volunteering because it enabled me to support causes that I am passionate about.  I was also keen to do something useful with the skills that I have.


LS: How did your past volunteering experience influence your decision to support the Learning Service movement?


E: As a volunteer you want to know that the work you do is of actual benefit to a certain cause. I was keen to support the Learning Service movement because by informing people of the different issues around volunteer travel we can help them choose programmes where they can achieve this.


LS: How do you hope Learning Service will influence the volunteer community?


E: I hope that Learning Service will influence the volunteer community by not only helping people identify how they can volunteer responsibly but also open up the conversation about international volunteering as a whole. I really believe that an open debate about how we can best volunteer is the only productive way of finding out what does and doesn’t work in the voluntary sector.


LS: Do you have any fun volunteer stories you’d like to share?


E: I’ve enjoyed all the volunteering that I’ve done but singing songs with my Khmer students in Phnom Penh about tops the list!


LS: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go (and why)?


E: I would love to visit Bhutan. It’d be interesting to learn about Bhutanese society given the importance they place on gross national happiness rather than GDP. The mountainous landscape looks wonderful too!


LS: Any lessons you learned from your past volunteer experiences?


E: I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt when volunteering is to persevere, it will be worth it in the end! This is particularly relevant to volunteering overseas where the challenge of both adapting to a new culture and missing your family and friends back home can make it difficult sometimes.


Tips & Tools for Volunteer Travel via Volunteer South America

If you are reading this blog, the chances are that you are interested in volunteering in another country. Overseas volunteering is something with a broad appeal, from students taking a gap year, to professionals looking for a career change, to retirees looking to offer their skills. In fact it is an activity that many people have on their bucket list of ‘things to do before they die’. There are a few reasons for this. Maybe it seems to offer a more authentic travel experience, off the well-worn tourist trails; an opportunity to connect and exchange with local people. Or it can be a way to give back to the communities that have provided us with such fond memories. It also offers a way to help and make a difference in the places we travel to, especially ones with seemingly such stark needs.


However, ensuring that we offer our time to the right place in the right way is not as easy as it sounds. As the numbers of travelers looking to volunteer has grown, so too has the number of service providers offering volunteer experiences. Sometimes motivated by a profit or status-building incentive, there are examples of volunteer placements that end up being surface level experiences created purely for travelers to feel good about themselves. Or even worse, the good intentions of tourists and volunteers can be taken advantage of by corrupt organizations or unscrupulous individuals who may even harm or exploit those the project purports to help. These may not be the first thoughts on your mind as you are searching through websites looking for your way to contribute to the world!


Continue reading on the Volunteer South America blog!