What is social volunteering and how can I make a positive impact?
Traveling has taught me many valuable lessons, especially social volunteering. One of the most important things I’ve learned is just. how big of an impact we can make to improve the world’s wellbeing.
Why try social volunteering?
It’s really great when we can contribute to society in our own little way, no matter where we are. And this means that we’re not only helping others, but also ourselves as well. When we take the time to engage with other people, we have the chance to learn so much from them.
This allows us to learn about other cultures, customs, languages, and much more. By social volunteering, we can learn many new skills by trying new things every time.
Thanks to Worldpackers, we have many possibilities for social volunteering. On the site, you can filter your search results so that if you’re going to a specific continent, country, or city, your search will be much more efficient. Here are the available positions for some continents:
This is where you’ll find different kinds of opportunities for social volunteering, for example social impact work at NGOs, schools, or social projects. If you’d like to participate in programs offered by NGOs, I’d recommend reading about NGOs that offer free volunteer positions abroad and traveling the world with voluntourism.
Thanks to these opportunities that Worldpackers gives us, we can have amazing experiences, get out in the world, and help others along the way. Priceless.
Social volunteer work
We must respect all people, wherever we are in the world. With social volunteering, not only will you have the chance to meet and help many people, but you’ll also be surrounded by their cultures and customs.
This means that when social volunteering, you’ll offer your skills to others, and they’ll offer you theirs in return. There are different kinds of social support, of which the most common are:
Social volunteering in Africa
Africa tends to be a continent where a lot of people want to go to make a serious positive impact. There are many countries available for social volunteering.
One example of this is Tanzania, a country where we can find various possibilities to volunteer, see the country, its cities and towns, and the people who may need assistance.
For this kind of social volunteering, you must meet these requirements: Have at least a beginner level in English, be between 18 and 80 years old, and sometimes contribute in dollars per week during your stay.
Before starting to volunteer, you’ll get an introduction to the place and its people. This is to inform volunteers how to dress and act there, because of the many social taboos that exist in this region. Also, learn more about teaching abroad:
- Volunteer teaching in Nicaragua with a Worldpackers social impact program
- How teaching abroad changed my life
- Teaching English and becoming part of an Italian family in Genoa
10 actions to make a social impact while traveling
There are many ways to make a positive social impact.
Social volunteer work is a very good one, but if we want to go deeper, there are other actions we can take as well.
1. Donating food
Donating food to people out in the world can really mean a lot for anyone who struggles to meet their basic need of nourishment. First of all, I know how hard it can be sometimes for some of us travelers to make money while we travel. Often we don’t have a lot of money, and we think that means we can’t help others.
But while traveling for a few months, I realized that this really isn’t a problem, that having less money doesn’t mean you can’t help other people. The truth is that we’re not alone. There are many people who are willing to help, to unite for the common good, be they locals or foreigners. Keeping this in mind, if you don’t have a lot of money to confront the problem on your own, you can always ask for help.
In the hostels where you stay while volunteering, you can bring people together for a good cause: going out to share food with others. You don’t need a huge amount of money, you can come up with many affordable options. And you don’t have to stick to the people at your hostel – you can also go to other hostels and ask them to work with you.
You can also get help from locals, including from markets where many people will no doubt give you their help, whether it be a little money or some food they have at home. Any kind of help is welcome. Lots of people will also want to cook and deliver food with you, which is wonderful. Everything’s better with a team, and the more people who work together, the more people you’ll be able to help.
2. Supporting the local economy
Taking advantage of local markets is a great idea to strengthen the local economy. This may seem crazy, because one single person can’t affect the economy of a place that easily. But still, if we’re able to help, let’s remember that little drops of water make the mighty ocean – all help adds up.
Many people tend to choose well-known chains like McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, and Starbucks, just to name a few. But in my opinion, there’s nothing better than enjoying the local food. These huge corporations are all over the world, whereas the local food where you go can be very unique. These actions add up to create an economic and social impact. Keep reading about volunteer experiences:
- The best 5 ways to volunteer for free wherever you want
- 15 types of volunteer work and how to choose the right one
- I quit corporate to travel the world as a humanitarian volunteer. Here's how.
3. Support local guides
In many places, we need a guide to go on any kind of tour. When this comes up, we can look for a local guide who needs work, someone who we can support. When I was in the city of Medellin for example, I wanted to visit Comuna 13, and some people recommended going by myself and that everything would be fine.
In this case, I think it’s better to hire a local guide, because most of them know all about the history of their area. I’ll bring up the example of Comuna 13 again. If you go to Medellin, you can’t pass up this historic area, where you can take the Medellin Comuna 13 Free Graffiti Walking Tour.
It’s pretty pointless to go there without a guide, because it has a ton of history and it wouldn’t be the same to go without someone who lived through it to tell you about it. This tour is totally free and really good. Even though the company is Swiss, they have employees who actually live in the comuna, people who experienced this important history.
This makes the tour much better, because these guides really feel this history in their hearts, which you can tell when they speak about it. Even though the tour is free, you can still give them tips. This is how we support them, these kinds of guides who help Comuna 13 the most. If you’re planning to go to Medellín, I recommend reading this article that talks about what you should know before visiting Comuna 13.
Inside Comuna 13 there are also many shops where you can find everything from traditional foods to souvenirs. It would be great for you to buy something from the people there. The food is delicious and the people very friendly, so you can enjoy local food and conversations with people from right there.
And at the same time, you’ll be making a positive social impact, because these people really rely on tourism. It’s one of the things that help them to support themselves. And there are many other places like Comuna 13, where we can contribute our support in different ways.
4. Avoid haggling
For many of us it’s normal to want lower prices on the things we buy, but this actually isn’t a very good thing. It’s understandable to want to haggle when prices are extremely high, but there are other times when prices tend to be reasonable or even low.
When visiting places like Colombia or Argentina, for example, it doesn’t really hurt to ask for a deal. This is because their currencies aren’t very strong, so giving you a discount of a few pesos won’t really hurt a seller. However, in countries like Ecuador where they use the US dollar, haggling with someone might be very damaging to that seller. Just one dollar could really make the difference to their income.
Before haggling, it’s better to consider if it’s really necessary for someone to lower their prices for us. In many cases, we’re talking about artisan craftwork, people who spend hours and hours working on their products to sell so they can put food on their table. We should really value their enormous effort and their handwork.
5. Don’t throw away your clothes
Oftentimes when we start a trip, we leave home with more clothing than we’ll use. This means that at a certain point, it can become a burden. So, many people decide to leave their extra clothes somewhere or throw them out, which is really bad. Instead of doing these things, we can commit to a much better option: donate them.
There are many people who don’t have enough money to buy clothing, and so the time comes when their current clothes start falling apart and they have no choice but to keep wearing them. Donating clothing is such an easy thing to do, because you can just go out and give it to the people who need it the most.
In fact, many places have organizations that facilitate this kind of donation. So if you’re not really sure who to give clothing to, it’s better to bring it to these organizations. They are generally dedicated to making a social impact in many ways, with clothing donations being one of them.
6. Help people and save money
Some people lose their luggage while traveling and need to buy new clothes. Others find themselves having to sell their clothing because they need the money to buy medicine, food, or other essentials.
Many places have secondhand clothing shops, so it’s very likely that you’ll find something you like there for a really good price. Doing this gives us the chance to save money by buying clothing secondhand, and the best part is that at the same time we’re helping someone else.
7. Don’t forget about the animals
During my trip, I saw a lot of stray dogs all around the world. Dogs that have been left out on the street to fend for themselves, dying of hunger or sickness for lack of care. In the face of this problem, there are a few things we can do.
Something that I’ve done before when volunteering with animals is buy some dog food, for example, and go out to feed the dogs around town.
Another very important thing is to neuter these animals. In many places, there are campaigns to do so for free, to avoid having more and more dogs out on the streets.
8. Get informed before arriving at your destination
We know how great it is to get to a new place and be surprised by everything it has to offer, but sometimes this can be problematic. In certain places in Southeast Asia, for example, there are many temples around. And we can’t just enter them however we please – there are certain norms of what to wear that must be respected.
You can’t enter any kind of temple wearing shoes, you have to go in barefoot and without socks on. You need to leave your footwear outside each temple. There are some temples which are more touristic where you can leave them in a designated area. I recommend wearing shoes that are easy to take off, for example flip-flops or sandals.
9. Don’t damage historical monuments
Many of us know not to cause any changes to the places we visit. This seems very obvious, but unfortunately there are many people who aren’t as conscious of their actions. If you see someone doing this, the best thing to do is to stop them from continuing their harmful actions.
On the other hand, there are people who unintentionally cause similar harm to places as well. Many people go to archeological sites and take things home with them. This has really negative effects and you could get into a lot of trouble for doing so.
10. Be careful where you go
By this I’m talking about exploring the places around you. There are certain areas that we can visit on our own, others that we can’t access without a guide, and those that are so dangerous that the best option is to take a tour. It’s very important to respect these different kinds of places and not ignore local warnings.
When people disobey them, this doesn’t just affect us as travelers, it also affects locals by generating negative social impacts. And among the various consequences is the fear that it generates. It can quickly give an area a bad reputation, which makes people afraid to visit certain places.
This in turn affects the local economy, which is extremely bad and even worse for places like Montañita in Ecuador which relies almost exclusively on tourism.
Let’s make a better world
Even though our actions may seem tiny considering the huge problems facing people and the world, we shouldn’t get discouraged. We have to always remember that no action which we complete is really that small. Any kind of help that we can offer will benefit someone, whether now or in the future.
If at any point you want to take positive action but can’t motivate yourself to do it, just ask for help. There will always be someone at our side to help a good cause, and ways to help others.