“Why?” is the most important question to ask oneself, even for something like volunteering overseas. Unfortunately, prospective volunteers tend not to consider this question. This lack of intentionality can lead to misguided initiatives so the volunteer does more harm than good. There are countless reasons to volunteer, here are five of each:
– Bad Reasons to Volunteer Abroad
- To escape personal problems
- To lift poor people out of poverty
- To travel or have an adventure
- You can’t hold down a job or pass classes
- To impress future employers
Elevating the impoverished is a good goal, but a questionable reason. Such an assumption could be arrogant and offensive.
– Good Reasons to Volunteer Abroad
- To learn a foreign language/culture
- To gain perspective on the impact of wealthy countries in the world
- To put your concern for others into action
- To share your skills and expertise at an organization’s request
- To become a more effective advocate for change
Apart from the clear-cut reasons, the main difference is one of perspective. Miraculously saving the poor from poverty is not a good reason, but taking action to help others is. One point of view sees themselves as an altruistic savior, the other, as a willing servant.
This is why it’s important to balance sacrificial and selfish reasons to volunteer overseas. A completely sacrificial mindset could be based on arrogance, as if they have nothing to learn from the intended beneficiaries. Someone with selfish reasons would only help others accidentally. But a balanced individual who realizes they have something to give and something to gain, may be better suited.
Volunteers can damage a community if they are there for the wrong reasons.
Volunteers can work within communities to affect great change if they are there for the right ones.