Pay to Volunteer Abroad?!?

I read a lot of articles about the volunteer travel sector and this is, by far, the most popular topic.  It’s a controversial topic but truthfully, not a difficult one.  Simply put, it costs a significant sum of money to bring a volunteer to a rural village in a developing country in Asia, Africa, or South America.  Do I think that some organizations, namely for-profit ones, take advantage of the situation?  Absolutely.  Do I think that certain costs are necessary to provide a safe and positive experience for all involved?  Absolutely.

For those who have shopped around, it is less expensive to volunteer abroad in a major city.  But, that’s not the home to the most pressing need.  The people that need the most support are often the most difficult to reach. I’m not saying that volunteering in Kathmandu, Phnom Penh, Jaipur, or Chiang Mai is not valuable.  If you are supporting an organization for several months, you can do a world of good by working in an office setting.  That’s why we offer individual programs for volunteers who can serve for at least one month overseas.  But, if you are visiting for two weeks, we’re looking to connect you with a meaningful project where you can make the greatest impact in the shortest amount of time.  Doing that right costs money.

I created Edge of Seven because I believe in the transformative power of a two week experience.  I’ve seen it time and time again.  A person changes when they live without sustainable access to water, sanitation, electricity, or variety in food.  Even if it’s for 14 days.  Then, volunteers REALLY understand the challenges that face rural villages in developing countries because they have lived it.  I’m a true believer in the philosophy that getting out and seeing the world will help people become more effective at changing it.

I weighed in on this topic last week, commenting on an article in my alma mater’s school newspaper called Volunteering My Opinion.  While I didn’t agree with many of the points made in the article, I understood the writer’s perspective.  When done right, short-term volunteering abroad is as beneficial to the volunteers as the locals.  My comment:

I do agree with your sentiment that volunteers often gain more than they give. Responsible organizations should be setting expectations accordingly. That being said, former volunteers often become the strongest advocates for solid organizations and causes and the awareness (and funding) created as a result of their efforts upon return can do a great deal to benefit communities throughout the developing world. I disagree with your point that communities benefit more from sending a check for $1,000 rather than paying [a program fee]. Over time, I’d argue that the initial $1,000 investment will lead to others investing and a greater impact.

Short-term volunteering is absolutely a philanthropic experience for volunteers, supporting communities in need halfway across the world.  On the flip side, it’s also an incredible opportunity for personal development.  Volunteers will not change the world in two weeks but are part of a much larger chain that will make a difference in the communities that we serve over time.  Let me be crystal clear – we’re not doing this to make money.  We are doing this at the most affordable price point possible to make a sustainable impact for years to come.

We invite comments! 


One thought on “Pay to Volunteer Abroad?!?

  1. i work for a volunteer travel company and i get to hear this question a lot, why volunteers should pay to volunteer abroad. Apart from accommodation and meals volunteers are paying for security and organization. they can opt out of doing so but my advice especially for short programs and first time volunteers is that they shouldnt expect it to be free

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