Volunteering can be an amazing experience for the volunteer. Your world will broaden, and you’ll be a healthier person both physically and mentally. You’ll experience many different worlds and viewpoints and create lasting friendships. You’ll even positively impact your career and future job prospects.
Volunteering can also have amazing effects on the people and communities that the volunteers service. They’ll also be exposed to a completely different world. Their world will broaden as they acquire new role models and perspectives. They’ll be empowered, and issues which affect them directly will be addressed and, hopefully, eradicated or at least ameliorated.
However, all these benefits can only come from choosing the right non-profit. This is because there are many dangers in volunteering – both for the volunteers and the people who are receiving help. This is why we stress that you should do your homework and choose an organization that is mindful of you and the communities or groups it works with. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that it might be helpful to point out the specific issues that can come with volunteering.
Volunteering is inherently risky.
Volunteering is often done in at-need communities because they’re the ones who need help the most. However, these are communities with which the volunteers aren’t usually in touch with. Thus, volunteers don’t necessarily know how to behave and what to avoid. Moreover, risk-accepting people are more likely to become volunteers than risk-averse people, which can increase the chances of taking a needless rink while volunteering.
This means that it’s very important for non-profits to provide the necessary training for volunteers. This training should include what to avoid. You should also learn who to talk to if there’s a problem, and how it’s best to behave. There should also always be a knowledgeable team leader on hand who is acquainted with the region and community. What’s more, volunteers should be provided with the access to emergency services and first aid. Mediums of communication with others in the organization and with loved ones should also be provided. This is to ensure that the volunteer can ask for help if needed be. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable or in danger in the organization or the area you’re volunteering at, you should be able to ask for help.
If the non-profit you’re looking at doesn’t have in-country support, or the support from someone from the area, there will be dangerous blindspots for volunteers. You also need to be mindful of being able to ask questions. If you don’t feel like you can ask all the questions you’d like before signing up as a volunteer, that most likely won’t change. Volunteers should both feel safe and be safe in the environment they service.
Volunteering can be harmful.
As we have previously touched upon, voluntourism is a growing trend that can ultimately be harmful for the communities non-profits service. Having good intentions will only go so far if neither you nor the organization you’re volunteering for know the area you’re visiting.
Volunteering can break families apart as voluntourism has caused children to become commodities to be used by unscrupulous entrepreneurs. As such, certain orphanages have encouraged parents to give their children up. This happens because the parents are made false promises of haven and education for their children. Moreover, when volunteers come and go during a child’s developing stages, they disrupt a natural attachment process that often leads to psychological problems later in life.
In communities where children are not separated from their families, volunteers can still cause disruption in a child’s life and distract them from more important activities such as doing their homework. Further, non-profits can also unintentionally harm or endanger the pre-existing cultures and traditions of the places they wish to help. Thus, it’s important to keep in mind that Western or Euro-centric traditions and modes of thought are not necessarily valid elsewhere.
Another thing to keep in mind is that although volunteering is helpful for your career prospects, it is also the wrong reason for anyone to choose to volunteer. There are many other ways in which you can benefit your CV that won’t harm others. If you volunteer, you need to do it because you want to help, and not because of how good it might look.
What can you do?
At this point you might be wondering if volunteering is worth your time or even helpful. The answer is yes. The first thing you need to do is decide how you can help. Not everyone has the energy, time, or ability to volunteer directly. The first thing to do is research several organizations and find one that resonates with you. You can do fundraisers or create content for them, and you’ll still be helping. If you want a more hands-on approach, you should focus on researching the organization extensively before committing to work with them. Ideally, you want an organization that has deep ties to the communities its servicing. This is the case for Caritas Smile!
Starting from three generations of Dominican-Americans trying to provide help for impoverished communities in the Dominican Republic, Caritas Smile has deep devotion towards helping the communities we service. Furthermore, we’re an international team with a locally-based team of volunteers in the Dominican Republic and Honduras. Also, and as we mentioned, you can and should ask us any question you might have before committing to work with us. If you work with us, we’ll also do out best to take care of you and make you feel safe without neglecting the safety and comfort of the people we service.
Volunteering is a wonderful experience, and we’ll gladly help you along the way.
Talia Velez is a Growth Impact Officer at Caritas Smile, a non-profit service travel program dedicated to making positive impacts and sustainable changes for women and children in developing countries. Having grown up in Mexico, Talia is keenly aware of the day-to-day issues faced by women and children in countries with more economic vulnerability. Visit our site to learn more about Caritas Smile and join us in our mission to help those in need.