Why is being a volunteer so costly?
So if you’ve come to this article, you’re obviously thinking about volunteering. Good for you, it’s such a rewarding thing to do when travelling, but can be expensive. Though, like many people, when I first decided to volunteer I was sort of surprised by all the costs involved. My program cost $4200USD. Which also included an extra two weeks travelling the country doing adventure activities, four weeks total.
Even when I got my head around paying this crazy cost it was another mission to convince my parents. But that’s the past and by reading this article I hope to inform you on why volunteering abroad can be so expensive and whether it is actually worth this cost.
Third Party Organisations
The most popular way to volunteer is through a third party organisation. They act as a middle man between you, the volunteer, and the final volunteer organisation in your desired country. As any product or service that is purchased through a third party organisation an extra cost will be added on. This will cover any expenses and administration costs, as well as a mark-up so they can earn a profit. Nothings free these days.
Now you might be scowling away at your computer screen saying “screw that I’ll just bypass the middle pay and contact the volunteer place directly”. Well, that may be all well and good. But, you’ll be missing out on a lot of extra support and assistance both leading up to and during your trip. If you have any questions there are people dedicated to answering these as well as providing you with as much information as possible.
Covers accommodation and food
Administration fees and paying peoples wages aren’t the only thing that the $250 a week is going towards. It is unsurprisingly paying for your bed to sleep in and normally at least two meals per day. The accommodation, whether a homestay or private apartment for volunteers, is maintained to the highest of standard and with your safety of highest importance. These places are an excellent place to meet likeminded people and further immerse yourself into the local community and culture. Trust me, you won’t go hungry. The food you’ll be eating will be delicious meals usually cooked by those of the local community. It’s worth every dollar.
Money back to the community
Bringing money into the community you are volunteering at is of great importance. In a lot of villages, often in the middle of nowhere, one of their main sources of income can be what the volunteers bring into their small economy. From personal experience volunteering in Costa Rica this was the case. Here, the whole fishing village got together and truly supported the volunteers. They welcomed them into their homes, as they very rarely hosted volunteers and needed to change this.
Another example of this is, where I actually volunteered, the work we were doing for the turtles was negatively impacting the income to the village. They dig up turtle eggs to sell as food. Whereas we would spend time patrolling the beach ensuring these future turtles are not ending up on someone’s dinner plate. Of course to make up for this loss in profit we had to provide the community with money to persuade them to stop collecting the eggs. Just hoping one day they would realise the tourism possibilities with the turtles is more profitable and beneficial to the village.
My last point is that you are paying for those amazing experiences. The work you are doing will be so rewarding. You will meet such amazing people and basically be having the time of your life. Leading up to your trip the costs and commitment involved may seem daunting. But once you arrive and settle down all those worries will fly away.
Make sure you are not being ripped off. Do your research and look into reviews of previous volunteers. A good way to view costs is by comparing the program costs for the week with how much it would cost you to stay and in a hostel and eat, then figuring out whether the difference in cost is worth the experience.
Lastly, shop around at different program options and organisations. For example, I travelled to Costa Rica with ISV paying $4200USD. Once we arrived at our village we found out IVHQ had a nearly identical volunteer program for $610USD for the same amount of time, and I will say the IVHQ people were fed better. Of course that $4200USD also covered an extra 2 weeks of travelling the country. But, that could’ve been done cheaper travelling solo. So learn from my mistakes, do your research into where your money is going and compare costs so you can make the best decision and not have to stress about prices.