25 November 2015

So, you want to volunteer on your career break. Good for you! But perhaps you've heard some things about volunteering abroad that have made you think twice.

There are loads of myths about volunteering overseas, that refuse to die! But we're here to set you straight.

Volunteering abroad myth 1: it's all children in orphanages

While a lot of volunteering does involve working with children (not necessarily orphans), that's by no means all of it.

Volunteering abroad encompasses a huge range of beneficiaries, from local business people, to the environment, to animals.

So if you want to volunteer but don't want to go near any kids, there are still plenty of options for you.

As an aside, there have been claims that the children aren't always orphans. This is sometimes true - while many lose their parents to AIDS (especially in Africa), some kids end up in orphanages simply because their parents are unable to look after them.

Volunteering abroad myth 2: the sending organisations make fat profits

The organisations that send volunteers abroad vary widely. We only have the ones we trust on this site - our vetting and approval process is the strictest in the industry.

Some organisations are teeny weeny charities or non-profits. Some organisations are quite big and are for-profit. But this doesn't mean your hard-earned cash is buying the CEO a new Ferrari - far from it! They use their resources to ensure volunteer placements are fully supported, and to check that the projects are responsible (both to volunteers and the people they're aiming to help). They also use their money to advertise on sites like this, which helps us with the vetting process, as well as sending them enough volunteers to ensure the placements are viable.

In short, no matter where you spend your money, as long as the organisation is responsible, you're guaranteed that your project will be worthwhile and your money will be spent well.

Volunteering abroad myth 3: profit is bad

On the same lines, some people think that a for-profit status for a volunteer-sending organisation is inherently bad. It isn't.

One significant advantage of for-profit companies is that they can ensure the stability and long-term future of the projects they work with. For example, some of the community development or environmental projects need a commitment to long-term investment to work (trees don't just grow overnight!). And often, a for-profit company can do that.

Of course, charities and non-profit organisations have their own unique advantages too, the main one being that more of the money goes on the project (not all of it, there are necessary marketing and admin costs). Many also commit to long-term projects too, but obviously with a different funding model.

Volunteering abroad myth 4: you're taking a job away from a local

This is one of the most persistent volunteering myths. Volunteers don't take jobs away from locals - in may cases, they are helping to provide them, by providing free extra assistance, and of course, funds. If locals didn't want the projects there, they wouldn't exist - they simply can't survive without local support.

So if you're worried about taking a job away from a local, be assured that you might actually be helping to create one!

Volunteering abroad myth 5: it's all manual labour

Many volunteering jobs involve hard graft - whether that's digging, planting or buildilng. These are the ones that gappers tend to do as they don't tend to have much in the way of professional skills - but some career breakers choose to do these jobs too, just as a change!

But it's by no means the only sort of work.

In fact, many volunteering organisations recruit professionals with specific skills to help projects with things as diverse as medicine, fund-raising, law and marketing. Even if you don't have skills, there is a tremendous amount you can do - the list of jobs is as long as the ones you can do in paid work!

Volunteering abroad myth 6: the work is useless

This myth is perpetuated by people who are jealous of gappers and career breakers jetting halfway around the world to get their hands dirty. There have been a few stories of volunteers doing unnecessary work, but these are isolated incidents.

The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of people volunteering across the world every year are doing necessary, responsible and valuable work. Some of it's even life-saving. Some of it will save the planet. And the effects of the vast majority of the volunteer work being done today will be felt in years to come - possibly for generations.

Both volunteers and organisations are committed to the long-term benefit of the communities they serve - they don't just turn up and paint a wall that's already been painted.

As mentioned above, volunteer projects have local support, and it's the locals who direct the project, saying what does and doesn't need doing.

Volunteering abroad myth 7: it's all in developing countries

While it is true that most volunteering does take place in poorer places in Africa, South America and Asia, it's possible to get a volunteer placement elsewhere. There are some in Europe (mainly Eastern Europe), and you can even volunteer in the USA, in national parks.

And of course, it's possible to volunteer right here in the UK - there are plenty of opportunities for full-time volunteers (handy if you want a career break but can't or don't want to travel abroad).

Volunteering abroad myth 8: it costs a fortune

People always look at the cost of a volunteering placement and ask why it costs so much. You're not actually paying to volunteer, you're paying to cover your costs, for your support staff and to fund the project.

Most volunteering projects are excellent value for money as they offer accommodation, meals and 24-hour support, as well a pre-departure support and orientation/induction. Many also have various extras, such as language lessons, excursions or training.

The cost for a month volunteering abroad is generally less than a month of your living expenses at home! Also, some volunteering projects are funded, meaning they don't cost anything at all.

Volunteering abroad myth 9: it's for youngsters

Another myth left over from the days when volunteering was mainly for people on a gap year. These days, people of all ages volunteer - from 18 to over 80!

Volunteering organisations care more about your attitude and ability than your age. In fact, many market to older people because they need volunteers with a certain amount of professional experience, or to lead teams of younger volunteers. So it really is true that you're never too old to volunteer!

Volunteering abroad myth 10: it's all about altruism

Obviously, giving back and helping others is a huge part of volunteering abroad. But it's not just about you going out there and teaching others how to do things, or helping people who don't have much.

Volunteering these days is often seen more as a skills share - where you're learning as much as you're teaching! And the people who you think don't have much may be poor financially but you'll often find they are rich in other ways, and can offer you a different perspective.

So by all means, go out there with a willingness to help and a positive attitude, because you really will be changing the world! But the world will also change you.


Has this given you an appetite for volunteering? Don't hang about! Look at all our volunteering projects here.