Why travel so far to help?

Why travel so far to help?

Years ago, when I started volunteering overseas, it was simpler… the “volun-tourism” industry hadn’t actually exploded and caused damage to what was otherwise a potentially beautiful force of good in the world: international volunteering. So, when I see pictures of myself like this now, I tend to cringe a bit and immediately wonder if I look like just another foolish foreigner who is ignorantly causing harm to the communities where she most wishes to offer time and love and support.

But I have to remember a few things:

>> There are volunteer-sending organizations out there doing harm, and there are also those doing good. I choose to work with organizations that I’ve researched extensively, to ensure that they do NOT engage in volun-tourism. That means I investigate the partnerships they build, to see that the work done is sustainable and extends work already being done by the community. It also means that I ensure no local workers are displaced – rather, they are supported by the volunteers.

>> I am operating from an impulse of compassion, and a desire to support. I do not wish to fix or change or correct anything. It’s as though I see a group of friends pushing a large boulder up a hill… and so I simply put my shoulder against it too.

>> Yes, there are times when it may be more effective to give the money you would otherwise spend on your volunteer placement directly to the people/project/family who will benefit from the volunteer work (… as if it were as simple as that!). But in doing so, you are missing the point… international volunteering is not a financial transaction. It is an investment of time and love; it is an act of solidarity and unity. If you have never stood beside someone in the scorching heat, someone with whom you can only communicate with gestures and laughter, and you have not felt the intense shared humanity of that beautiful moment, then you are missing the deeper meaning behind international volunteering altogether.

>> And finally, I firmly believe, and have always said: the most profound impact you make will never be on the place you travel, it will be on your own heart and mind, and in the changed perspective you bring back home and share with others.

And to those who say: “Yeah, but, we have problems here at home, in Canada. Why travel so far to help?” My position is ultimately this…

We each are individually responsible to answer the unique call of our heart. If yours calls you to work in Canada, I will applaud and support you. If mine calls me to Nepal (or India, or Tanzania, or Cambodia), I will go. There are enough “causes” around the world for each of us to find the one that moves us and calls us on a soul-level – we are not obligated to a geographic location simply because we were born there. In the end, there is so much to be learned and gained by simply appreciating and supporting the heart-led work that we each individually choose to do.

Leave a Reply