A reader named Amy responds to our post on voluntourism:
Voluntourism sounds like an excellent idea….However, I’m about to be graduating from college and I know I would never be able to afford to participate in “voluntourism.” What would your advice be for a broke idealist?
Amy raises an important point about voluntourism and international volunteer work in general: it can be awfully expensive, and thus cost prohibitive for recent graduates on a tight budget. Which seems slightly ironic in that it doesn’t seem like the impulse to give back should bring with it a high tab. But as many who’ve written on this topic point out, you wouldn’t expect a local organization for which you’re volunteering to pay for your transportation and morning coffee—so how can we expect an organization to pay for our international travel expenses?
Idealist and Transitions Abroad offer informative perspectives on why it costs money to volunteer. But to get back to Amy’s question, how can a broke idealist participate in voluntourism or get experience abroad? After the jump, a few ways to tackle this:
1) Raise money to fund your abroad experience. This can mean good old fashion fundraising (akin to the car wash to support your high school sports team) and/or applying for institutional support—such as Rotary Scholarships or Watson Fellowships—to fund your volunteer work abroad. Idealist offers comprehensive tips and resources on how to fundraise for yourself.
2) Look for volunteer opportunities that you don’t need to pay for. They are out there—again, Idealist offers a solid list at the end of the article. I spent a year volunteering in China after college with the Salesian Lay Missioners and came out even, as my travel and living expenses were covered by the organization. Personal experience seems to indicate that many programs that do cover costs often require longer term commitments, but I’m sure short term opportunities that are cost-free are out there.
3) Volunteer at home! Even if an abroad volunteer experience remains out of your financial reach, there are still opportunities to volunteer with international organizations and programs closer to home. Taking advantage of such opportunities will not only be easier on your budget, but will also get you in contact with leaders in the international community in your area, which will be nothing but beneficial as you chart your international career.