Ever dreamed of volunteering in Costa Rica? Can you afford it? Photo by shinenyc.
Several years ago, I researched doing a volunteer trip and was disheartened when most volunteer programs I found were well beyond my budget. I became sceptical. If these people want me to volunteer for them, why are they charging me so much money to do so?
In fact, it wasn’t the local organisations that were threatening to bleed me dry financially. It was the multinational companies acting as the middle man between them and potential volunteers such as myself. Their exorbitant fees were what turned me off volunteering overseas.
I was startled to read just how much going through an international “voluntourism company“ adds to the price. Rob Meyer, on his blog GoBudgetTravel, showed that a volunteer program costing a mere $450 if arranged directly with the organisation, costs $2245 if you go through a multinational company.
Where’s all that extra cash going?
Scott Pralinsky, the executive director for Tropical Adventures (a “so-called voluntourism company” which operates in Costa Rica), replied to Rob’s post from his own blog, explaining that the extra money helps pay for quite a bit. Besides setting you up with an appropriate local organisation, these companies provide valuable support for volunteers. They also research and decide which areas of Costa Rica most need support. And of course there are administrative costs, advertising, and salaries to pay.
I agree that companies like Tropical Adventures have their place. They are great for travellers who might not be willing (or able) to plan a volunteer trip themselves.
Unfortunately, voluntourism companies also tend to be the most prominent. How many travellers grow discouraged and give up after they find they cannot afford to volunteer - without ever realising that they can organise it on their own?
Should voluntourism companies take greater care to inform potential volunteers that there are cheaper ways to volunteer - even if that means some people don't volunteer through them?
For those interested in organising their own volunteer trip, here are a few great articles worth checking out:
- The Complete Guide to Volunteer Tourism
- 6 Steps to Organizing Your Own Volunteer Trip
- How to Save Thousands by Organizing Your Own Volunteer Trip
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