Voluntourism has become quite a fad. Type in the phrase “volunteer work in Thailand” and you end up with tons of websites offering hundreds of volunteer jobs for a price. With each listing, you find testimonials about people who felt that their volunteer work in Thailand had made such a great impact in their lives that their lives are changed forever by it. Add a few pictures of smiling kids, cute baby elephants, and smiling Westerners feeding elephants, building a house, or teaching a class, and you can’t help but feel a tug on your heartstrings.
Don’t rush off to Thailand in search of these picture-perfect volunteer jobs just yet. Perhaps finish this article before you make any rash decisions.
Voluntourism allows people to reach out to less fortunate communities and help create positive changes in people’s lives. There can’t possibly be anything wrong with teaching English at schools for free, working with the poor children in the orphanage, helping build a school, or perhaps even taking care of elephants. Even if most of the intermediary companies online would charge a hefty amount for it, it is still a win-win situation. The agencies that assisted you in finding the job gets paid for the efforts, those who are in need gain the help that they need, and you get the experience of working in a developing country. It’s a win-win situation. Sadly, it is not that simple.
The pictures and the testament on the websites may seem like the volunteers had the time of their lives in Thailand. What you need to consider that volunteer work is not all smiles in the Land of Smiles. Being a developing country, things do not always go as planned. You might have to smile through delays, scheduling mix-ups, and paperwork issues. Through such setbacks, you will need to control your temper as raising your voice is considered rude in Thai culture. Aside from cultural tolerance, you will also need to adjust to a new physical environment. Paying a high amount, for example, does not ensure you of acquiring comfortable accommodation.
Voluntourism has become a business. And, with the big demand for volunteer jobs in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, supply must be created. The effects of this could be as harmless as having schools with too many teachers and not enough work. But, it could go as far as locals losing jobs because it is cheaper to hire a volunteer to do the job for free. When building a school, for example, instead of hiring locals, filling up the workforce with eager volunteers can cut down the budget.
According to the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, voluntourism companies tend to misrepresent their products and the companies that charge more for volunteering experiences tend to be irresponsible in their recruitment procedures. Although lack of experience is expected from a volunteer, they are taken on without giving them proper orientation or training to do the job well. Worse, people with the tendency to do more harm than good are not filtered out of the system.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Although not all volunteer jobs are created equal, the first few lines of search results on Google may not be your best bet. Go beyond the listings on these websites and take a good look at the company, school, or sanctuary that you will be working with. Reach out to volunteers, expats, and locals based in Thailand through social media. Leave a shout on Facebook or Couchsurfing groups to get first-hand information.
LEAVE US A COMMENT
If you have volunteered in Thailand before, we would really appreciate it if you could share us your experience by commenting below.