Some of the Worst Volunteer Opportunities Abroad, and How to Avoid Them

by Megan Hettwer

Sep 30, 2014

© Steffan Hacker | HFHI

Trends / Voluntourism

Volunteering abroad is a huge commitment and not all international volunteer opportunities are created equally. There are a few scams you should look out for before flying off toward a voluntourism trip, and here are a few of the most common.


If you don’t have the correct skills, it’s not a good volunteer opportunity.


Any volunteer organization that places travelers in a project where they don’t have the adequate skills is not a good choice. If you don’t have any medical skills or training, you probably shouldn’t be going on a medical mission trip. Teaching English is another popular volunteer experience, but do you like teaching? Have you taught before, and are you an effective teacher?


If you won’t be around long enough to make a lasting impact, maybe consider another sort of trip.


Volunteering in a community for two weeks likely won’t make a lasting difference. There are exceptions, of course, but you also need to consider the ramifications of your short-term presence. For example, volunteer programs with children often neglect to consider how constant volunteer turnover can affect younger populations. Medical mission trips might provide assistance for a short while, but can the community fend for itself once the volunteers leave?


Beware of the common orphanage scam.


One of the most common “scams” surrounding international volunteering involves orphanages. Cambodia, in particular, created an entire industry surrounding this vulnerable population. There are legitimate orphanages to volunteer at, but doing extensive research is absolutely imperative.


You can avoid many of the worst international volunteer opportunities by being honest with yourself about your skills and time commitment, and by thoroughly vetting any organizations.



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