Monday 24th October 2016                 Change text size:

Volunteering Overseas: life changing experience or waste of money?

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A free to attend one-day conference will take place at the Braithwaite Hall in Croydon on Saturday 24th October to help prospective volunteers understand the issues around gap years and volunteering overseas.

Many people, especially young people, are increasingly considering volunteering overseas in order to gain experience, improve their CV or just to give something back. There is no doubt that volunteering can be a rewarding and sometimes life-changing experience. It can also contribute something to the people in the place where you volunteer. However not all volunteering overseas benefits the host communities and some exploit the good intentions of well-meaning volunteers. UK volunteers can pay thousands of pounds (most going to the tour operator) to undertake short volunteering placements overseas, which although well intentioned, can often do more harm than good.

The conference, organised by Tourism Concern, will bring together international speakers, ethical volunteering organisations, returned volunteers – plus experts from NGO’s, industry and Croydon’s voluntary sector. It is aimed at prospective volunteers and those interested in ‘voluntourism’ and the full day event includes discussion groups (including on motivations and expectations), presentations, films and the opportunity to speak to past volunteers and Ethical Volunteering organisations.

The conference will help prospective volunteers choose placements that bring real benefits to the destinations – and will provide them a rewarding experience – including questions to ask, issues to consider and marketing blurb to avoid.

Sarah Dyer, a returned volunteer said “I love lions and knowing how much they were in decline I decided to volunteer in South Africa to work with them. Unfortunately I had no idea of a horrific industry called canned lion hunting where lions are bred in captivity to be killed.  After volunteering I was devastated to find out that the lion cubs I fell in love with were more than likely destined for this industry. I will be speaking on the 24th Oct and what to make sure other volunteers don’t inadvertently get involved in something as horrible.”

Mark Watson, Tourism Concern’s Executive Director said: “Volunteering overseas is often a once in a lifetime experience and volunteers often pay thousands of pounds to undertake a placement overseas. It is therefore essential for any prospective volunteer to find out as much as they can before signing up, otherwise they could have an unfulfilling and disappointing experience, or may even cause harm.

There are some excellent organisations sending volunteers overseas and we are working with most of them via our Ethical Volunteering Group. These organisations aim to promote best practice in international volunteering, to maximise the beneficial developmental impacts in the communities where volunteering takes place, minimise the negative impacts, and to ensure volunteers have a worthwhile experience.”

The event is free to attend, although people will need to register online in advance. You can find the agenda here.

Sponsored by AIG Europe Ltd.



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