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10 Inconvenient Truths About Voluntourism

10 Inconvenient Truths About Voluntourism

Are you attracted by the idea of helping desperate people in Haiti or working with an orphanage in Nepal? The concept of volunteer tourism or voluntourism is a noble and worthy one. But when I started to investigate, I realized that there are some uncomfortable truths that have to be faced before volunteering.

I was shocked to realize what big business this has become. There are well over one and a half million tourists (mostly college students and retirees) who offer their services worldwide every year which is worth about $2 billion. These are the figures quoted in a book Volunteer Tourism- A Global Analysis which provides a fascinating insight into what is often a very murky business, unfortunately.

1. Do you know anything about the volunteer organization?

There are excellent bodies doing Trojan work out there. But there are also some very shady operators who are exploiting, not only the well meaning tourists but the poor people, children and the homeless in the developing world. Here are a few examples:

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  • Costs are high – staff and resources have to be found. Is this the best use of the time and money spent?
  • Many of the 800 orphanages in Nepal, for example, are bogus institutions and unregulated.
  • Unscrupulous operators trick poor people into sending their children to be educated in one of these institutions. In reality, they are neither educated nor fed properly.
  • One Unicef report found that 85% of the children in these so called orphanages in Nepal had at least one living parent.

2. Why not send money instead?

One volunteer who worked in post earthquake Haiti, helping to rebuild homes, found that the actual cost was almost $1,000 per volunteer. Half of that money was spent on building materials and hiring local construction workers. The other half was spent on feeding and housing the volunteers. This volunteer was convinced that sending all the money would have been much more helpful in the long run.

3. Children are abandoned

The volunteers are encouraged, when working in the orphanages, to bond with the children to strengthen the emotional attachment. This, in my view, is a particularly useless and cruel approach. The volunteers will abandon the vulnerable and needy children, once they leave. Many children suffer the trauma of another separation as they are abandoned yet again!

4. Employment could be given to local people

Many volunteers turn up to roll up their sleeves for tough manual or skilled work. There are local, unemployed people who could easily do the work and be paid a fair wage. This would really help to make a difference. The volunteers arrive, work like slaves and leave without making any impact at all on the local economy. In many ways, they have made a bad situation worse!

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5. Are you encouraging a new type of colonialism?

Throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, many countries are still struggling to shake off the shackles of colonialism which have left many unwelcome legacies. Volunteer tourism can interfere with this process of independent and positive growth. This should include long term strategies and help people develop new skills to face local economic challenges. The fact that volunteers are trying to feel good by working in the field is often a hindrance. Much better to do some serious fundraising at home.

6. Are your skills a match for the job?

Most student volunteers know nothing about building or child-rearing. In many cases, senior citizens or retirees are better placed here as they have considerable experience in various jobs and will have a better skills match.  If you are considering voluntourism, think about the project and what skills are required. What are your language skills, social skills, parenting experience, manual skills, and so on? Then, honestly reflect on whether you would be really useful or not

 7. Volunteers come first

“It’s done for the experience of the volunteer. It’s all about the volunteer, with the pretense of helping someone, and I don’t buy it.”- Roger O’Halloran, director of PALMS International.

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Many volunteers are accepted and their needs seem to come first. Lots of expense, time and effort are put into making their experience a memorable and self fulfilling one. They are offered a unique experience which their cosseted upbringing has never allowed. The actual recipients of the aid come a very poor second.

8. Who is really benefiting?

Did you know that many of the ‘fake’ orphans I mentioned above are often cast out on the streets, once the volunteer tourist project ends? They will be forced to beg and be forced into prostitution. This is the time to think about the middlemen and how these organizations are run. Who is really gaining? Very often, the middlemen, travel agencies, and so called institutions are gaining a lot of ready cash.

9. Are you willing to be complicit in child trafficking?

This is the most serious issue of all. Many volunteers are unwittingly entering into the murky world where children are exploited, abused and trafficked. They would be shocked to find out what is really going on.

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10. 10 things to check out before volunteering

  1. Check out the organization you hope to work with. Ask a lot of questions, especially about employing locals, skills sets and costs. You need to know if they are reputable and reliable.
  2. Visit their website and their Facebook page. This is a good way of connecting with past volunteers and learning from them.
  3. Learn about the country you hope to visit. Study the history, culture and economic situation.
  4. Examine honestly your motives and ethics in volunteering. If you are looking for photo-ops, it may be best to consider something else.
  5. If the organization is a religious one, are you comfortable with any preaching or evangelism to be done?
  6. Ask about support and training you will receive if you do decide to go.
  7. Find out about their finances and their involvement with local NGOs. You may want to check out what their goals, ethics and values are.
  8. Be very clear on what the project hopes to achieve and how it will help local initiatives/employment after you leave.
  9. If you decide not to go, consider other ways you can help the organization if you feel it is a worthy one. Do you have IT skills where you could build a website for them?
  10. Consider a financial donation, if you feel that your skills set and physique are not up to it. Check out how they manage their funds, if you can.

Voluntourism is great, if it is carried out responsibly with local people’s needs in mind. If not, it may well be a scam that should be avoided at all costs.

Featured photo credit: Group 20 -015/Visions Service Adventures via flickr.com

More by this author

Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on November 4, 2020

42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself

42 Practical Ways To Improve Yourself

Are you someone who likes to grow? Do you constantly seek to improve yourself and become better?

If you do, then we have something in common.

I’m very passionate about personal growth. It was just 4 years ago when I discovered my passion for growing and helping others grow. At that time, I was 22 and in my final year of university. As I thought about the meaning of life, I realized there was nothing more meaningful than to pursue a life of development and betterment. It is through improving ourselves that we get the most out of life.

After a year and a half of actively pursuing growth and helping others to grow through my personal development blog, I realize there is never an end to the journey of self improvement.

The more I grow, the more I realize there is so much out there I don’t know, so much that I have to learn.

For sure, there is always something about ourselves we can improve on. The human potential is limitless, so it’s impossible to reach a point of no growth.

Whenever we think we are good, we can be even better.

As a passionate advocate of growth, I’m continuously looking for ways to self-improve. I’ve compiled 42 of my best tips which might be helpful in your personal growth journey. Some of them are simple steps which you can engage in immediately. Some are bigger steps which takes conscious effort to act on. Here they are:

1. Read a book every day.

Books are concentrated sources of wisdom. The more books you read, the more wisdom you expose yourself to.

What are some books you can start reading to enrich yourself? Some books I’ve read and found useful are Think and Grow Rich, Who Moved My Cheese, 7 Habits, The Science of Getting Rich and Living the 80/20 Way.

When you’re reading a book every day, you will feed your brain with more and more knowledge.

Here’re 5 really good books to read for self-improvement:

2. Learn a new language.

As a Singaporean Chinese, my main languages are English, Mandarin and Hokkien (a Chinese dialect). Out of interest, I took up language courses in the past few years such as Japanese and Bahasa Indonesian.

I realized learning a language is a whole new skill altogether and the process of acquainting with a new language and culture is a totally a mind-opening experience.

3. Pick up a new hobby.

Beyond just your usual favorite hobbies, is there something new you can pick up? Any new sport you can learn?

Examples are fencing, golf, rock climbing, football, canoeing, or ice skating.

Your new hobby can also be a recreational hobby. For example, pottery, Italian cooking, dancing, wine appreciation, web design, etc.

Learning something new requires you to stretch yourself in different aspects, whether physically, mentally or emotionally.

Here’re 20 hobbies to get you some new ideas

20 Productive Hobbies That Will Make You Smarter and Happier

4. Take up a new course.

Is there any new course you can join? Courses are a great way to gain new knowledge and skills.

It doesn’t have to be a long-term course – seminars or workshops serve their purpose too.

I’ve been to a few workshops and they have helped me gain new insights which I had not considered before.

In fact, anyone who wants to be a smarter learner should take this 20-minute FREE class: Spark Your Learning Genius. It will help supercharge your learning ability and pick up any skill faster!

5. Create an inspirational room.

Your environment sets the mood and tone for you. If you are living in an inspirational environment, you are going to be inspired every day.

In the past, I didn’t like my room at all because I thought it was messy and dull. A few years ago, I decided this was the end of it – I started on a “Mega Room Revamp” project and overhauled my room.

The end result? A room I totally relish being in and inspires me to be at my peak every day.


    Photo credit: Source

    6. Overcome your fears.

    All of us have fears. Fear of uncertainty, fear of public speaking, fear of risk… All our fears keep us in the same position and prevent us from growing.

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    Recognize that your fears reflect areas where you can grow. I always think of fears as the compass for growth.

    If I have a fear about something, it represents something I’ve yet to address, and addressing it helps me to grow.

    Learn How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding).

    7. Level up your skills.

    If you have played video games before, especially RPGs, you’ll know the concept of leveling up – gaining experience so you can be better and stronger.

    As a blogger, I’m constantly leveling up my writing skills. As a speaker, I’m constantly leveling up my public engagement abilities. What skills can you level up?

    8. Wake up early.

    Waking up early (say, 5-6am) has been acknowledged by many (Anthony Robbins, Robin Sharma, among other self-help gurus) to improve your productivity and your quality of life.

    I feel it’s because when you wake up early, your mindset is already set to continue the momentum and proactively live out the day.

    Not sure how to wake up early and feel energetic? These ideas will help:

    How to Get Motivated and Be Happy Every Day When You Wake Up

    9. Have a weekly exercise routine.

    A better you starts with being in better physical shape. I personally make it a point to jog at least 3 times a week, at least 30 minutes each time.

    You may want to mix it up with jogging, gym lessons and swimming for variation.

    Check out these 15 Tips to Restart the Exercise Habit (and How to Keep It).


      Photo credit: Source

      10. Start your life handbook.

      A life handbook is an idea I started 3 years ago.

      Basically, it’s a book which contains the essentials on how you can live your life to the fullest, such as your purpose, your values and goals. Sort of like your manual for your life.

      I started my life handbook since 2007 and it’s been a crucial enabler in my progress.

      11. Write a letter to your future self.

      What do you see yourself as 5 years from now? Will you be the same? Different? What kind of person will you be?

      Write a letter to your future self – 1 year from now will be a good start – and seal it.

      Make a date in your calendar to open it 1 year from now. Then start working to become the person you want to open that letter.

      12. Get out of your comfort zone.

      Real growth comes with hard work and sweat. Being too comfortable doesn’t help us grow, it makes us stagnate.

      What is your comfort zone? Do you stay in most of the time? Do you keep to your own space when out with other people?

      Shake your routine up. Do something different.

      By exposing yourself to a new context, you’re literally growing as you learn to act in new circumstances.

      13. Put someone up to a challenge.

      Competition is one of the best ways to grow. Set a challenge (weight loss, exercise, financial challenge, etc) and compete with an interested friend to see who achieves the target first.

      Through the process, both of you will gain more than if you were to set off on the target alone.

      14. Identify your blind spots.

      Scientifically, blind spots refer to areas our eyes are not capable of seeing. In personal development terms, blind spots are things about ourselves we are unaware of. Discovering our blind spots help us discover our areas of improvement.

      One exercise I use to discover my blind spots is to identify all the things/events/people that trigger me in a day — trigger meaning making me feel annoyed/weird/affected. These represent my blind spots.

      It’s always fun to do the exercise because I discover new things about myself, even if I may already think I know my own blind spots (but then they wouldn’t be blind spots would they?).

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      After that, I work on steps to address them.

      15. Ask for feedback.

      As much as we try to improve, we will always have blind spots. Asking for feedback gives us an additional perspective.

      Some people to approach will be friends, family, colleagues, boss, or even acquaintances, since they will have no preset bias and can give their feedback objectively.

      Learn more about how to ask for feedback and become a fast learner here!

      16. Stay focused with to-do lists.

      I start my day with a list of tasks I want to complete and this helps make me stay focused. In comparison, the days when I don’t do this end up being extremely unproductive.

      For example, part of my to-do list for today is to write a guest post at LifeHack.Org, and this is why I’m writing this now!

      Since my work requires me to use my computer all the time, I use Free Sticky Notes to manage my to-do lists. It’s really simple to use and it’s a freeware, so I recommend you check it out.

      17. Set Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs).

      I’m a big fan of setting BHAGs. BHAGs stretch you beyond your normal capacity since they are big and audacious – you wouldn’t think of attempting them normally.

      What are BHAGs you can embark on, which you’ll feel absolutely on top of the world once you complete them? Set them and start working on them.

      Learn How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life.

      18. Acknowledge your flaws.

      Everyone has flaws. What’s most important is to understand them, acknowledge them, and address them.

      What do you think are your flaws? What are the flaws you can work on now? How do you want to address them?

      19. Get into action.

      The best way to learn and improve is to take action.

      What is something you have been meaning to do? How can you take action on it immediately?

      Waiting doesn’t get anything done. Taking action gives you immediate results to learn from.

      20. Learn from people who inspire you.

      Think about people you admire. People who inspire you. These people reflect certain qualities you want to have for yourself too.

      What are the qualities in them you want to have for yourself? How can you acquire these qualities?

      21. Quit a bad habit.

      Are there any bad habits you can lose? Oversleeping? Not exercising? Being late? Slouching? Nail biting? Smoking?

      Here’s some great advice from Lifehack’s CEO on hacking your habit loop to break bad habits and build good ones:

      How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop

      22. Cultivate a new habit.

      Some good new habits to cultivate include reading books (#1), waking up early (#8), exercising (#9), reading a new personal development article a day (#40) and meditating.

      Is there any other new habit you can cultivate to improve yourself?

      If you’re wondering how to make good habits stick, check out these tips:

      18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick

      23. Avoid negative people.

      As Jim Rohn says,

      “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”.

      Wherever we go, there are bound to be negative people. Don’t spend too much of your time around them if you feel they drag you down.

      Not sure who are the toxic people in life? This article can help you:

      10 Toxic Persons You Should Just Get Rid Of

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      24. Learn to deal with difficult people.

      There are times when there are difficult people you can’t avoid, such as at your workplace, or when the person is part of your inner circle of contacts.

      Learn how to deal with them. These people management skills will go a long way in working with people in the future:

      How To Deal With Negative People

      25. Learn from your friends.

      Everyone has amazing qualities in them. It’s up to how we want to tap into them.

      With all the friends who surround you, they are going to have things you can learn from.

      Try thinking of a good friend right now. Think about just one quality they have which you want to adopt. How can you learn from them and adopt this skill for yourself?

      Speak to them if you need to. For sure, they will be more than happy to help!

      26. Start a journal.

      Journaling is a great way to gain better self-awareness. It’s a self-reflection process.

      As you write, clarify your thought process and read what you wrote from a third person’s perspective, you gain more insights about yourself.

      Your journal can be private or an online blog. I use my personal development blog as a personal journal too and I’ve learned a lot about myself through the past year of blogging.

      27. Start a blog about personal development.

      To help others grow, you need to first be walking the talk. There are expectations of you, both from yourself and from others, which you have to uphold.

      I run The Personal Excellence Blog, where I share my personal journey and insights on how to live a better life. Readers look toward my articles to improve themselves, which enforces to me that I need to keep improving, for myself and for the people I’m reaching out to.

      28. Get a mentor or coach.

      There’s no faster way to improve than to have someone work with you on your goals.

      Many of my clients approach me to coach them in their goals and they achieve significantly more results than if they had worked alone.

      If you’re looking for a mentor, don’t miss these tips:

      What to Look for in a Good Mentor

      29. Reduce the time you spend on chat programs.

      I realized having chat programs open at default result in a lot of wasted time. This time can be much better spent on other activities.

      The days when I don’t get on chat, I get a lot more done. I usually disable the auto start-up option in the chat programs and launch them when I do want to chat and really have the time for it.

      30. Learn chess (or any strategy game).

      I found chess is a terrific game to learn strategy and hone your brainpower. Not only do you have fun, you also get to exercise your analytical skills.

      You can also learn strategy from other board games or computer games, such as Othello, Chinese Chess, WarCraft, and so on.

      31. Stop watching TV.

      I’ve not been watching TV for pretty much 4 years and it’s been a very liberating experience. (Here’re 10 Reasons To Turn Off Your TV)

      I realized most of the programs and advertisements on mainstream TV are usually of a lower consciousness and not very empowering.

      In return, the time I’ve freed up from not watching TV is now constructively used for other purposes, such as connecting with close friends, doing work I enjoy, exercising, etc.

      32. Start a 30-day challenge.

      Set a goal and give yourself 30 days to achieve this. Your goal can be to stick with a new habit or something you’ve always wanted to do but have not.

      30 days is just enough time to strategize, plan, get into action, review and nail the goal.

      33. Meditate.

      Meditation helps to calm you and be more conscious. I also realized that during the nights when I meditate (before I sleep), I need lesser sleep. The clutter clearing process is very liberating.

      Have a try with this 5-minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime.

      34. Join Toastmasters (Learn public speaking).

      Interestingly, public speaking is the #1 fear in the world, with #2 being death.

      After I started public speaking as a personal development speaker/trainer, I’ve learned a lot about how to communicate better, present myself and engage people.

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      Toastmasters is an international organization that trains people in public speaking. Check out the Toastmaster clubs nearest you here.

      35. Befriend top people in their fields.

      These people have achieved their results because they have the right attitudes, skill sets and know-how. How better to learn than from the people who have been there and done that?

      Gain new insights from them on how you can improve and achieve the same results for yourself.

      36. Let go of the past.

      Is there any grievance or unhappiness from the past which you have been holding on? If so, it’s time to let it go.

      Holding on to them prevents you from moving on and becoming a better person. Break away from the past, forgive yourself, and move on.

      Just recently, I finally moved on from a past heartbreak of 5 years ago. The effect was liberating and very empowering, and I have never been happier.

      37. Start a business venture.

      Is there anything you have an interest in? Why not turn it into a venture and make money while learning at the same time?

      Starting a new venture requires you to be learn business management skills, develop business acumen and have a competitive edge.

      The process of starting and developing my personal development business has equipped me with many skills, such as self-discipline, leadership, organization and management.

      38. Show kindness to people around you.

      You can never be too kind to someone. In fact, most of us don’t show enough kindness to people around us.

      Being kind helps us to cultivate other qualities such as compassion, patience, and love.

      As you get back to your day after reading this article later on, start exuding more kindness to the people around you, and see how they react.

      Not only that, notice how you feel as you behave kindly to others. Chances are, you will feel even better than yourself.

      39. Reach out to the people who hate you.

      If you ever stand for something, you are going to get haters.

      It’s easy to hate the people who hate us. It’s much more challenging to love them back.

      Being able to forgive, let go and show love to these people requires magnanimity and an open heart.

      Is there anyone who dislikes or hates you in your life? If so, reach out to them. Show them love.

      Seek a resolution and get closure on past grievances. Even if they refuses to reciprocate, love them all the same. It’s much more liberating than to hate them back.

      40. Take a break.

      Have you been working too hard? Self-improvement is also about recognizing our need to take a break to walk the longer mile ahead. You can’t be driving a car if it has no petrol.

      Scheduling down time for yourself is important. Take some time off for yourself every week. Relax, rejuvenate and charge yourself up for what’s up ahead.

      41. Read at least 1 personal development article a day.

      Some of my readers make it a point to read at least one personal development article every day, which I think is a great habit.

      There are many terrific personal development blogs out there, some of which you can check here.

      42. Commit to your personal growth.

      I can be writing list articles with 10 ways, 25 ways, 42 ways or even 1,000 ways to improve yourself, but if you have no intention to commit to your personal growth, it doesn’t matter what I write.

      Nothing is going to get through. We are responsible for our personal growth — not anyone else. Not your mom, your dad, your friend, me or Lifehack.

      Make the decision to commit to your personal growth and embrace yourself to a life-long journey of growth and change. Kick off your growth by picking a few of the steps above and working on them.

      The results may not be immediate, but I promise you that as long as you keep to it, you’ll start seeing positive changes in yourself and your life.

      So here you are, 43 solid ways for self improvement. Pick one or a few to start doing today.

      If you want to see yourself improving, you must take some actions.

      More Self-Improvement Tips

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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