Wanting to donate your skills is a beautiful thing, but sadly we’ve seen a rise in people, usually unintentionally, doing more harm than good. They see volunteer programs in Southeast Asia as another tick-off-that-bucket-list or the perfect opportunity to snap “selfies” with so called “poor people” for that long awaited #humblebrag Instagram post.
If you’re looking to volunteer in Southeast Asia but unsure how to bypass the “voluntourists” and embark on an authentic experience, this guide is for you! Read on for our top tips to help you on your way.
Photo credit: Chelsea Aaron
All too often well-meaning people stumble blindly into a community expecting that their presence is enough to make a lasting impact on the local people. While that might be the case for a few charismatic individuals, the reality is not that simple. Think what skills you have, research if there is a need for them and how you can effectively use them to support an organization or community.
Doing your homework will help you feel more confident and also appear less “green.” Spend time learning about the country’s culture, people, politics, climate, food, local organisations – the list goes on! It is also wise to leave your preconceived perceptions at the door, things more often are not as they initially appear. In a nutshell, pack an open mind and an open heart.
Photo credit: Ash Edmonds
Follow Your Passion
Want to work on women’s empowerment issues? Keen on environmental and conservation initiatives? Or the thought of teaching children makes your heart sing? Following your passion will make your volunteer journey more rewarding for all concerned. In Southeast Asia, the opportunities are endless and choosing your area of work as well as the specific country, organization and community will greatly contribute to an authentic volunteer experience.
Photo credit: Larm Rmah
Asking questions is vital as you don’t want to end up working for a corrupt organization and end up being detrimental to the people you were hoping to “help.” Before you commit to signing up to a volunteer placement or accepting a volunteer abroad program ask those all-important accountability questions including, transparency around financials, are they are registered organisation, are there Child Protection Policies in place (if they work with children), skills volunteers need to have/ can contribute and how long volunteers need to commit to staying. The last question might not seem to be an obvious one but is really important as organizations that require longer-term commitments are generally more focused on sustainability and lasting impact.
Don't be a Burden
Being a part of the solution and not part of the problem is key and that means coming prepared! You do not want to be a drain on your organization’s (likely) already stretched resources. Come with enough money to fund your stay and bring any materials you might need. If you’re broke you can always seek other options like hosting a fundraising event for your trip with friends and family.
Photo credit: Evan Krause
Looking for that authentic volunteer experience? Check out the current listings at Nomads 4 Good.