Learning and Sharing

Difficulties in international volunteering

International volunteering is a type of volunteering in which volunteers spend their time working for organizations outside of their home countries. Most often, volunteers work in developing countries on international development programmes with local volunteer organizations that conduct activities such as health promotion, education, building shelters, and environmental conservation.

This way of traveling and working can cause various problems for volunteers. Governments can sometimes see the presence of volunteers from another country as a breach of sovereignty and an indicator of disrespect. Motivations, respect, and diplomacy are important in these matters.

There are three conditions that need to be respected and fulfilled in these matters:

  • Financial accountability, meaning transparency in funding management to ensure that what is done by the volunteers is properly targeted.
  • Policy reform, meaning that there should be a request from the government for developing countries to adopt certain social, economic, and environmental policies.
  • Development objectives, which means asking developing countries to adjust specific time-bound economic objectives.

Volunteer organizations describe their mission as altruistic, fighting poverty and improving the living standards of people in the developing world. If they work with the government, the results can be fantastic. However, there is a risk that the real motives of the organization or the government are hidden. Many developing countries are faced with investment and industrialization without prosperity and growth. This happens because those countries are often a place to pursue development strategies that are not productive and are wasteful and destructive. This often happens when volunteer organizations are supported by other organizations or individual governments, and not valid and transparent volunteer-supporting organizations. Sometimes, economies of the developing countries are so destroyed that they cannot be sustained without some kind of outside support. This may represent a problem for volunteers. If they are not informed about the company or organization they are volunteering for they cannot be sure if a company’s policies and work agree with volunteers’ values and beliefs.

It is true that some organized offers of help have changed the spirit of volunteering by treating the local voluntary actions as contributions and with existing conditions demanding the local people to modify their behavior in a way that would earn them the right to charity. This can be very offensive and demeaning to the recipients of the aid because it serves the needs of the donors rather than the people who are actually in need.

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