Volunteer checklist: what to consider

Enthusiastic local kids as we trek Annapurna Circuit | Ross Anderson
Enthusiastic local kids as we trek Annapurna Circuit | Ross Anderson

People generally volunteer to do something meaningful and experience a new culture. However, some volunteer-sending companies may be more concerned with creating a ‘life-changing’ experience for the volunteer, with less focus on the purpose and the needs of local communities.

For instance, the growth of orphanages, in many cases, directly corresponds to the increase in tourism numbers that have been to driven by well meaning but uninformed tourists who volunteer and donate to the orphanages.



World Expeditions is on the working party of the the Rethink Orphanages Network, an organization working to prevent the unnecessary institutionalisation of children in developing countries.

Here are 10 things to look for to make sure your time overseas is spent making a genuine difference:

1. Track record

Look for evidence of past achievements and how programs are monitored and evaluated.

2. Integrity

A growing number of companies have ceased orphanage volunteering. Find out who.

Since 2013, we've removed all instances of orphanage tourism from our trips when research first revealed a direct relationship between the increase in the number of orphanages in developing nations and the increase in tourism numbers. We hope that our involvement will encourage other companies, and travellers, to avoid orphanage tourism.

3. Accountability

Some organisations recruit volunteers for their own programs; others act as ‘volunteer brokers’ and may not have end-to-end accountability for the project or your safety.

4. Selectivity

Expect to apply to volunteer and be vetted as if you were applying for a job or university. You should also receive pre-departure support.

5. Credibility

Emotive language like ‘saving the world’ or ‘giving children the love they need’ may be used to recruit volunteers, but it’s not an indicator of quality.

6. The ‘need’

Make sure your role will enhance local capacity – e.g. by providing training to, or working with, local people to meet a short-term skills gap.

7. Sustainability

Check there’s a project end date, not a long-term dependency on volunteers.

8. Skills match

What do you have to offer? Skills in high demand include digital, monitoring and evaluation, fundraising, language and computer skills. However, some community projects may not require specific skill sets.

9. Suitably qualified

Avoid placements for which you are not skilled or qualified – e.g. teaching or caring for children or providing medical care.

10. Learning opportunity

How will you apply what you've learnt back home? Employers will be interested in evidence of impact, not just the fact that you have volunteered overseas.

Did you know, globally, an estimated 80% of children in orphanages have a living parent? Watch this short documentary revealing the untold story of orphanage tourism.

Want to make a difference? Join onto one of our community travel projects >

#ThoughtfulTravel #ChangeVolunteering

Responsible Travel, rethink orphanages, thoughtful travel, thoughtful traveller, volunteering

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