Full moon in Thailand, trekking in Laos and volunteering in Cambodia. First of all, for anyone considering getting involved in volunteering in South East Asia, it shouldn’t be viewed as just another ‘thing to do’ on your backpacking trip. Before you even think about signing up with an organisation, think carefully about the amount of time you are willing to commit, the skills you have which may be beneficial to others and where they can be best put to use. In other words – do your homework! There are many opportunities for volunteering in this part of the world, from teaching English to conservation and, if researched properly, the experience can be very rewarding for everyone involved. On the other hand, inappropriate volunteering can impose a volunteer’s agenda, undermine local confidence, increase the dependency on external help – and generally create more problems than it solves!
Put together with the help of Concert Cambodia, these guidelines will help both you, and the community you wish to help, get the most out of your volunteering experience.
Thinking of Volunteering? Here are some points to Consider:
- Make sure you plan ahead and consider how much of your time you can realistically commit. Many volunteer organisations will have a minimum time that you can stay.
- Think about what skills you have to offer an organisation. Are you particularly good at teaching? Are you great with animals? Start your research based on what you have to share.
- Make contact with your chosen organization well ahead of time – this will give you more options and flexibility for a more successful volunteer placement.
- Think carefully about the role you have been asked to do at an organisation. Are you taking a job away from a local person? No worthwhile volunteer placement should do this.
- When you make contact with an organization, ask about their responsible tourism policy and what procedures they have in place. Looking at what volunteers have achieved in the past is a good indicator of whether the organisation are achieving their goals.
- Most upstanding volunteer organisations will want to ask questions about you! Be wary if they so readily accept your help without checking you out first. After all, you could be in close contact with children or be exposed to sensitive information, which you need to be ready to deal with.
- If the organisation demands a project fee from the volunteer make sure you ask how much of that fee goes to the project.
- Find out what you can about the culture of the country before you arrive and be sensitive to local customs and cultures, dress appropriately, learn a little of the language and understand respected symbols of their country.
- Remember you are an ambassador for yourself and your own country and if this is the first time a local has ever met someone from ‘Ireland’, make sure they remember that country as a respectable one.
- While you are in the community, try to support the local economy by buying local goods from local stores, eating in local restaurants and using local transport. Become local as much as you can!
- If you want to make a donation / bring gifts to the community ask what the organisation needs first. Don’t just assume that they need 200 colouring pencils. Make sure your best efforts are warranted.
- It goes without saying: respect the environment while you are in a local community, using water sparingly, disposing of litter (especially plastic) appropriately and recycling where you can.
- In some parts of South East Asia, you may need to be vigilant regarding child abuse and other extremely serious problems. Don’t be afraid to report an organization if you think they are corrupt, or report any wrongdoings. While most people involved in supporting the most vulnerable are indeed genuine, there will always be a small minority who may exploit people’s situations for their own benefit.
- Think twice before giving money to begging children or buying souvenirs. Instead give your money to organisations who are working to improve their conditions.
- Tell people about your home country, pointing out the negatives in a way that will help them appreciate their own culture and not glorify another’s. Cross-cultural education is the way for both parties to make the most out of a volunteering experience.
Are you particularly good at teaching? Put to use your best skills.
If you’re a volunteering organisation and wish to advertise to travellers, please feel free to post your details on our forum!
If you’re a traveller and have recently volunteered in South East Asia, can recommend any places that need volunteers or have any tips, please post your advice on our forum too!
For more information about volunteering and recommended organizations, please visit our main volunteering page.