Becoming a Humanist Volunteer

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 24 April 2014

Voluntourism is travel, which involves volunteering for a charitable cause. Over the past decade the voluntourism industry has become increasingly popular. The Travel Industry Association of America has reported that more than 55 million Americans have participated in volunteer based travel and that an estimated 100 million more individuals are considering undertaking voluntourism. The majority of voluntourists are high school and college students. Volunteering abroad can be an enlightening experience, it allows youth to experience new cultures, learn new skills, gain life experience and build their CV. However, perhaps most importantly, voluntourism provides the opportunity for productive travel.

I first became a voluntourist in late 2011. I had just finished my undergraduate studies and was ready to see the world. Like many other young people around the world I was desperate to travel; however, I also wanted to give something back. Therefore, I decided that volunteering was the way for me to go. A google search or two later I’d signed myself up to become a volunteer English tutor in Northern India. As with most volunteer abroad programs I had to pay a fee that would cover my accommodation, food, internal travel in India and aid the organization’s charitable projects. During my 12 weeks in India as I watched countless volunteers come and go, many only spending two weeks volunteering, I started to wonder exactly where my money was going and if I was really doing much good

There is a lot of controversy surrounding voluntourism. Do these holidays cater more towards the volunteer than they do towards the volunteer project? Is this industry sustainable? Is your money really going towards helping people in need? How does voluntourism affect the local economy of a nation? Is voluntourism in reality exploiting those that volunteers intend to help? These are perhaps some of the questions that go through people’s minds when they are deciding if they want to under- take volunteer work abroad.

Of course reliable, trust worthy and genuine voluntourism does exist.

However, another question has to be answered by prospective volunteer. Does the ideology of the charitable organization reflect your own beliefs?

I wanted volunteer work that I undertook to promote an ideology and ethic that I personally support. 

I decided to become a Humanist volunteer. Throughout 2013 and early 2014 I undertook a volunteer project for the Society for Humanism (SOCH) Nepal. As a volunteer I worked for SOCH as a writer and taught science in a school (Ambience International School) run by the Society. By volunteering for a organization associated with the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization and the International Humanist (IHEYO) and Ethical Union (IHEU), I was able to ensure that I undertook volunteer work that supported my personal ethics and values.

I also discovered that working for a Humanist organization provided me with greater scope and personalization of my experience in a foreign country. Many voluntourism programs have prescribed work that may not utilize the skills possessed by the volunteer. However, SOCH Nepal was able to create a volunteer program that suited my skills and allowed me to work productively.

The biggest advantage of becoming a Humanist volunteer was that working with a local Humanist society gave me the opportunity to meet, work with, live with and befriend locals from a vastly different culture who shared a similar outlook on Humanism promotes the respect of Human dignity and I believe that there is no greater way to be a Humanist than to work internationally with like-minded individuals.

Have you ever considered voluntourism? If you have, perhaps you should consider becoming a Humanist V olunteer instead. There are many great member organizations of IHEYO who are willing to host volunteers. Find a Humanist initiative that interests you and fits your skills, send an email, and see what opportunities are available for you. Or perhaps you are a Humanist associated organization who would be interested in hosting international volunteers; Publicize your desire to host volunteers online and make information available on how to initiate a volunteer-host relationship.

Volunteer as a Humanist, or host a Humanist Volunteer, and see experience the world from a Humanist perspective.

Eleanor Middleton
The Humanist Society of New Zealand

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