Humanitarian missions vs Exchange Networks
What is Volunteering?
When the word volunteering is mentioned it mainly refers to an unpaid work; to an activity you do for pleasure or an act to help the others. And when you start travelling this last point is even more important. You will find two main kinds of volunteering.
The first one is more like a contribution to volunteer. It means that you pay an association to help them with developing a local organisation as humanitarian missions for example. The second way of volunteering is more like an exchange of services where you work a number of hours per day/week and in exchange, you get free food and free accommodation. For me, it is a really good way to travel when you are on a budget or when you are travelling for a long period of time.
Throughout the time I had the chance to experience both ways of volunteering. And I first started with a Humanitarian mission in Togo. It was actually the first time that I was travelling by myself but it was also when my love for travelling first started. There, I paid for everything, my flight, the accommodation and the food. I volunteered with a local association based in Tabligbo, situated three hours away from Lome, the capital city of Togo. The name of the association was “Terre Promise” which means Promised Land in English. But, it did not have anything to do with religion. Even if, in most of the African countries religion has an important part of everyday life. For example, you would find “Alhamdulillah” written on the taxi (This reference comes from Senegal) or used for the name of a shop. The help consisted of playing with kids from the orphanage, watching cartoons with them but also discovering a new culture by helping with cooking local Togolese meals.
What are the inconveniences?
I really enjoyed the country and its people and it was a really interesting experiment but the problem of those kinds of volunteering is that the associations you volunteer with are not always fair and reliable as even after you have paid for everything they still ask you for more money and at some point it becomes irritating. And be aware that I am only writing about the association and not about the people itself. Because they are asking for money which is totally understandable considering the poverty in which they are living in. At least I would have tried it once but I am not sure of doing it again even if the main goal is to help the population in need.
Testimony of others volunteers
My sister also did a Humanitarian mission in Kenya with two of her friends. When I asked them about their experience, their reaction was that leaving for the first time with an organisation had something reassuring. However, they agreed on the fact that they had paid a lot of money to do it. And they did not really know where the money was going to and apparently, it was more for the association rather than to help the local people. Otherwise, they really enjoyed their time in Kenya.
Contrary to the humanitarian mission, my current way of volunteering is more about exchanges as I said before. I discovered it via a website called “workaway” but you can find a lot of them including “help X”. Besides, they are defined as Moneyless Help Exchange Network. The purpose is very simple, as a “workawayer”, your goal is to find a host whose offer corresponds to your skills or your wants. You have the choice of the continent, then the country. And if it’s a country in high demand you are able to choose the region. Or you can also insert the keywords to find more easily the field you want to work in. So far, I have only done it in two different countries (South Africa and Sri Lanka) but with four different hosts. And except for one, where things became inappropriate in the host behaviour. I can’t really complain about my experiences. On the contrary, they all gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people and to learn a lot about the culture of the country. Especially in South Africa where the shadow of Apartheid is still present.
What are the benefits?
This way of travelling also gives you an approach to professional work. Indeed you get some volunteering where you have responsibilities. For example, I worked as a receptionist several times and I have learned all the ins and outs of the job. It actually helped me to find a job when I did my Working Holiday Visa in Australia. I worked as a receptionist for six months in a backpackers in Sydney. In addition to the professional opportunity given by those Exchange Networks, it also gives you a lot of freedom that you may not have in an organisation. Indeed once you are free of duty, not only you have time to explore the area or go out with other volunteers, but also you will have the freedom to cook or discover the local food by yourself. For the best or at your own risk! In my opinion, there is nothing better than doing your own groceries in a foreign country and try the local food.