Is Voluntourism Really That Bad?

Is Voluntourism Really That Bad?

By Natalia Gutman on 19/06/2018

“Voluntourism” is the informal term for being involved in voluntary work while traveling and exploring the country where the volunteer work takes place. Over the past decade, voluntourism — which is also called volunteering abroad — has become a major travel trend, with an expected 20 million volunteer travelers per year by 2020!  

While most volunteers are between the ages of 18 to 25, more retirees and seniors are joining such projects abroad. In fact, according to a 2012 survey, 35% of adults of all age groups said they were interested in going on vacations that involve participating in volunteer programs and activities.

The increased popularity of voluntourism shows how travelers are increasingly looking for meaningful travel experiences, as opposed to purely touristy holidays. People are looking for more immersive opportunities, during which they can donate their time, skills, and knowledge to developing countries.


Sounds great on paper, right?


So Why Does Voluntourism Get Such a Bad Rap?


Back in July of 2017, author J.K. Rowling sent out a series of tweets on this subject:



She spoke about how orphanages will abuse children in order to make them look more “needy and vulnerable” in a bid to extract financial aid from well-meaning individuals. Institutionalized children are often mistreated and denied mainstream education. According to Rowling, a significant percentage of these children become involved with prostitution and criminal rings after they become adults. She also tweeted that many of these orphanages are known to be involved in child trafficking rackets. What’s more disturbing is the fact that most of these children have close family members or at least one living parent who can take care of them. Instead of being institutionalized, and used as marketing fronts to draw out funds from volunteers, these children need the love and care of familial security.


The Problem with Placement Agencies who Promote Voluntourism


Once voluntourism took off, many non-profits had no real way of promoting themselves to potential volunteers. That’s where Placement Agencies came in. They became the connection between volunteers and non-profit organizations, charging ridiculously high fees simply to place these volunteers with the organizations. Instead of these fees going to help the non-profits, they lined the pockets of the agencies. What’s more, only wealthy people were really able to volunteer.

Furthermore, the non-profits had no ability to screen volunteers or ensure that they were a good fit — this often resulted in a mismatch of skills, and unsuitable volunteers often arrived at their destinations with no idea what to expect.


GivingWay Doesn’t Work with Orphanages, which are Often a Voluntourism Trap


In many ways, JK Rowling is right. Orphanages can be the worst kind of voluntourism trap, and they are a big reason that voluntourism has gotten such a bad reputation. For this reason, GivingWay won’t accept orphanages onto our platform. Even though we understand that not all orphanages can be labeled be as bad, we also recognize that there is no plausible way to regulate these distantly-located institutions. This is why we maintain a strict policy of not promoting or assisting orphanages.


You can read more about why we don’t work with orphanages in this article.


So, are there ways to ethically travel and volunteer abroad?


GivingWay is Dedicated to Enabling Meaningful, Ethical Voluntourism


children playing


GivingWay is a voluntourism-based platform that features ethical and meaningful volunteer programs with clear goals to benefit local communities. We believe that volunteering abroad is extremely beneficial — for both the volunteers as well as the grassroots non-profit organizations who serve their communities around the world.  

We aim to provide visibility and raise awareness for even the most remote non-profit organizations — all they need is an internet connection! — by giving them direct access to the international volunteering community.

Volunteers can create a free profile with GivingWay, which enables them to connect directly with non-profits and other volunteers. Non-profits can screen applications from potential volunteers, allowing them to ensure that the needs of their community are well met.

Joining GivingWay is free and we do not charge any subscription fee like other platforms. Some non-profit organizations featured on our website charge a daily fee from participants to cover basic accommodation costs and other expenses. Such fees are paid directly from the volunteer to the non-profits. There are several premium services offered by GivingWay — for example, GivingWay Groups — for which we charge a one-time handling fee.

GivingWay is proud to have almost 1,900 non-profits on our platform, who can offer wonderful opportunities for volunteers to bring about real and positive change through us.


Animal Care Voluntourism Opportunities


camel egypt


There are thousands of ethical organizations that do great important wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation work around the world. Still, there have been reports of organizations that exploit animals (and volunteers).

The easiest way to tell if an organization is ethical is to consider the conditions of the animals. Are the properly fed, are their medical needs being met, do they have enough space? Are the animals more of a touristic attraction to the public (for example, camel rides, petting time, circus)? Unfortunately, there are some organizations that prefer to profit and gain from animals, rather than to care for them.

We suggest reading the linked article if you are interested in learning more about responsible volunteering with wildlife.

GivingWay has many non-profit organizations that are doing wonderful work, and need volunteers to help with animal rescue, care, rehabilitation, and conservation.

There are several animal rehabilitation volunteer jobs available in countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, where rescued animals get reintroduced to the wild. Another popular volunteering initiative is to take care of street dogs by providing them with food and shelter, which can take people to places like South Africa, Peru, Thailand, and India.


Teaching Voluntourism Opportunities


Providing quality education to both adults and children who live in impoverished conditions is one of the most common and globally available forms of volunteer work.

These volunteering abroad opportunities can include teaching English in India, creative learning classes in Ghana, and teaching arts and drama to local school-children in the Philippines.


Voluntourism Opportunities for Conservation Work


turtle sea


There are many forms of conservation work for people interested in international volunteering jobs, such as supporting sustainable development programs and empowering rural communities living close to nature. The promotion of sustainable travel in order to reduce the negative impact on nature caused by tourism is also a widely available conservation project that frequently seeks the help of foreign volunteers. Marine conservation programs can also take place in beautiful far-off coastal destinations, where volunteers can help save endangered species such as sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins.


Voluntourism Opportunities for Archaeological Work


Though not all voluntourism destinations have archaeological programs for volunteers, Bulgaria does offer an educational program on archaeology that involves preserving excavated sites. Temporary projects such as site and building restoration also often become available.


Volunteering Abroad for Disaster Relief


Disaster relief programs aid people who are affected by natural disasters or severe economic hardship. Community building programs helping those affected by earthquakes and poverty in Nepal are voluntourism causes. Another type of voluntourism that seeks global participation is building water and sanitation infrastructure, which often takes place in areas like Machakos, Kenya.


What now?


We know there is a lot of controversy surrounding the word “Voluntourism”. However, we do encourage you to search through our platform in order to experience how easy it can be to connect directly with non-profit organizations around the world for no fee and in a transparent way.

Take a look at this year’s expert roundup. In a quest to shed light on volunteering trends, needs, and challenges for 2018, we surveyed over 40 journalists, bloggers, NGO directors and travel influencers. What was the conclusion? You guessed right! That Voluntourism can be good if done right.

You can make a difference in an ethical manner. Sign up and give us a try!

If you’d like to share your thoughts, please feel free to email us at