How to Do Voluntourism Responsibly

Summer is coming to an end! For the past few months, we have been awash with requests from potential volunteers.  Generally, potential volunteers contact us wanting to do combine their travel to Honduras while donating their time to complete short projects—painting, gardening, or hosting a workshop for kids.  This type of work—voluntourism, as it is commonly called—is happening all over the world and can be a win-win arrangement.  Volunteers get experience abroad and can contribute to a cause they value.  Organizations get help carrying out their projects and spreading the word about their work.  However, voluntourism is not always a good thing.

Unfortunately, voluntourism can sometimes do more harm than good to the community.  This can be particularly true in cases where volunteers want to work directly with a vulnerable population, like the kids we serve at Casita Copán.  Having volunteers come and work with the children, build relationships, only to leave abruptly can damage a children’s ability to develop healthy attachments with people in their lives.  Given how important our supporters are to us, we’ve provided this quick guide to help future volunteers (at Casita Copán and beyond) plan their next jaunt abroad.

Step 1: Personal reflection

Examine your own goals and ambitions.  Why do you want to volunteer? By the end of your trip, what do you hope to have achieved? What skills do you have to share with others?

Consider whether or not your skills match the work available.  Do you speak the language? Are you interested in the work? Think about whether or not your participation in the program is appropriate and ethical.  Would you be allowed to do this kind of work in your own country? What can you provide that local professionals cannot?

Step 2: Apply for the volunteer position the way you would for a job

Take the time to do a little brainstorming.  Identify your skill set.  Does the organization that you are interested in working for have a specific position or project listed?  If not, what kind of projects might you be able to lead? When you have some ideas, contact with the organization.  Send a resume and apply for a specific position or propose a specific project.

Step 3: Be sensitive to the needs of the organization

Understand that organizing and supervising volunteer work takes time and resources from the organization. Do not be offended if the organization does not currently have the resources to offer you a position.  Find out if there’s something you can do to strengthen your application, and try again in the future.

If you are interested in working with kids, remember that it is generally not advisable for inexperienced or short-term volunteers to spend a lot of time directly working with vulnerable youth, unless they have some specific skill or activity to share.  Direct work with kids is possible and even ideal for those with teaching experience and the appropriate language skills.  Consider hosting a short workshop or preparing a few classes that you can lead with the kids.

Interested in helping out at Casita Copán?

Here are 5 things you can do to help Casita Copán:

  1. Short term volunteering in Copán Ruinas: We accept short-term volunteers on a case-by-case basis.  We ask for a small donation from each person working on the project for each day they work to help support our programs and kids.  Contact us with your resume and ideas, and we’ll work to see if we can find a way to incorporate your skills into our work.
  2. Support the Copán Ruinas economy: Our community relies on tourism. Come visit us in Copán Ruinas and take advantage of all we have to offer.  Our town has something for everyone—horseback riding, amazing Honduran food, hot springs, birdwatching, and of course, the Mayan ruins.  Many of the mothers we serve work in hotels and restaurants, and by supporting these businesses, you help keep our mothers employed.
  3. Remote volunteer work: Check in with us and see if we could use your help doing some translating, design work, video editing, or fundraising. You could also host a fundraising event for us from your own city.
  4. Donate to our organization or sponsor a child: Everyone knows how expensive it can be to raise a family. Casita Copán is raising dozens of families, and we could always use a little extra support.  Make a donation or become a monthly sponsor to provide direct assistance to a child who needs it.
  5. Spread the word: We’re a small organization doing big things, and we can always use help sharing information about what we do. Check us out on Facebook and Instagram, and help us share our videos and photos.

With a little self-reflection and research, you CAN make a big difference by doing short-term volunteer work.  The Casita Copán team is always here to answer questions and hear your ideas!