page : 30 | chapter : 11 | volume : 16


“Good things can be bad if you look on the dark side. But bad things can also be good if you look on the bright side.” – Anonymous

We tend to put action in two categories: good or bad. However, we can also overlook the fact that some deeds, although done with decent intentions, can result in creative negative impact. One of these is the act of volunteering abroad.

When is overseas volunteering a bad idea?

Although the sole act of volunteering may be a virtuous one, it has proven over time to be potentially harmful. Of course, this is with regards to some types of volunteering and the inclusion of overseas volunteering. It has been a topic of debate over the years and continues to remain so.

Despite there not being an indicator to whether overseas volunteering is good or bad, there are clear reasons as to why it can inadvertently do harm. Initially, I could not believe there being negative aspects to volunteering aboard. However, I have come across this topic previously and decided to do some research on the matter, bringing it down to 5 crucial points:

1. Economy:

If volunteers fill out positions that require manual labor or construction, there is a huge chance that it would directly clash with the economy. There would eventually be a problem for the locals who might not be able to find jobs in that field of work. Volunteers would be doing tasks for free in place of people actually being hired and paid.

2. Filling out CVs:

It is great to have a resume filled with global experience but it should not come at the cost of other people’s lives. Sometimes, people feel the urge to have to impress others or companies that they are applying for – thus resulting in conflict of interest. The purpose of volunteering is to be able to afford help and assistance to those that need it and it should not be forced. Doing a job without integrity can have serious consequences to it.

3. It is not meant for everyone:

Just because volunteering is an act of altruism, it does not make it suitable for everyone. Traveling all the way to one part of the world with hopes of creating a big change can in fact cause one – to the volunteer. This is especially the case when traveling to underdeveloped countries and expecting a different image of the whole experience. When coming face to face with illnesses, rural areas and troubled inhabitants, it can become overwhelming and difficult to handle.

4. Insufficient training:

Volunteers are not usually trained efficiently before going overseas, which creates a big source of concern. It can be due to the lack of care from these organizations when choosing volunteers to send abroad. Volunteers should be trained to have full responsibility as well as getting scanned for the specific skill set needed for the purpose they are traveling for. Not everyone has the essential cross-cultural skills or cultural intelligence that would allow them to get involved with other people at a personal level without creating some sort of tension.

5. Difference in social and economical levels:

In most cases, volunteers that travel abroad to contribute to a good cause may not be in the same social level as those they are helping. We have seen privileged students utilizing their gap year and using it to volunteer in shelters, orphanages and schools abroad. While those fresh graduates may just travel and return from an ‘experience’, they do end up leaving an impact. It would not change the fact that the less privileged would feel disconnected from the world or even secluded. This can especially affect children in areas of development.

On another note: If you do consider volunteering abroad, regardless, just do your research first. Is your help really needed or is your energy being taken advantage of? Are you preventing someone else from getting a proper job? Can  you come up with better ways to contribute with your services? Think about it.

Featured image is by Providence Doucet and is used for illustrative purposes only.


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