Voluntourism: What Is It And How To Identify It

If you are looking for an organization to volunteer abroad with, it is important to keep in mind how to spot something called voluntourism. While certain organization’s approaches to giving back may seem like a positive way to make a difference in the world and travel at the same time, there are several potential problems associated with it. This is how to identify voluntourism in an organization you are considering traveling with.

1. Limited impact:

Voluntourism programs are often short-term, meaning that participants may only spend a few weeks or months on a project. This can make it difficult to achieve a meaningful and lasting impact, particularly if the projects are complex and require a long-term commitment.

2. Lack of skills and experience:

Many voluntourism programs do not require supervision of their projects by professionals in the field, which means that participants may not be equipped to carry out the work effectively. This can lead to suboptimal results and potential harm to the local community.

3. Unintended consequences:

Voluntourism can have unintended consequences, such as creating a dependence on foreign aid, perpetuating harmful stereotypes, or taking away jobs from local workers.

4. Lack of consideration for the community:

Voluntourism programs may not be sustainable over the long term, and may not take into account the needs and priorities of the local community. This can lead to a disconnect between the goals of the program and the needs of the community.

It is incredibly important to do your own research into the organization you are wanting to volunteer with. If you are looking to make a sustainable impact on low-income communities and work alongside professionals who understand the needs of these communities, MEDLIFE might be right for you.

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At MEDLIFE, our approach is to stray away from voluntourism and curate Service Learning Trips that assist the individual needs of each community while respecting their autonomy, culture, and beliefs. We focus on long-term results by maintaining a relationship with our partner communities and offering follow-up care to those who need it. The job of our volunteers is to simply work alongside the professionals who are offering care to the patients. This approach ensures that the care being provided is top-quality and there is no room for error due to lack of skills and experience.

If you are interested in making a sustainable impact in Latin American communities, visit our website to learn more about our Service Learning Trips!


Hear it From MEDLIFErs

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Reya Seby
Western University

This trip motivated me more to pursue a career in the healthcare field so that I can use my resources to help those who need it the most, similar to MEDLIFE’s mission.

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Victoria DiCanio
University of Connecticut

It was most enjoyable to finish the hard work and see how big a difference a group of individuals can make. It was such an amazing experience.

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Anita Woo
University of Toronto

I enjoyed the mobile clinics the most, especially the dental and triage portions. I would definitely recommend a MEDLIFE trip, it was a great experience.

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David Saff
Maclay High School

The most enjoyable part of my trip was hanging out with the amazing group of kids I was with. I would highly recommend a MEDLIFE volunteer trip to others.

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Sydney Sansone
Nova Southeastern University

This trip made everything that I was learning in my public health courses come to life and immersed me in a new culture while also learning about medicine.

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Abygail Youmans
College of Charleston

Being involved with MEDLIFE is not like joining another club - its bigger than that. It is about joining a movement that seeks to help change people’s quality of life for forever.

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Emi Hofmann
University of Central Florida

Not only was I able to participate in a week long Mobile Clinic, shadowing doctors of all types of specialties including pharmacy, dentistry, gynecology, and more, but I was also able to learn about the culture and visit incredible places.

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Julian Takagi-Stewart
University of Toronto

One thing that I really loved about this trip was that MEDLIFE made sure that the volunteers got an understanding of the complexity of issues that lead to underprivileged people in communities outside of the main city

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Hannah Van Hofwegen
University of Ottawa

Whether it was basketball with the local kids, assisting the doctors, talking with families, building washrooms, holding babies, or spending time with the people who were on the SLT with me, this was an amazing opportunity that I would do over and over again.

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Isabelle Holt
Cornell University

I loved learning about the patients MEDLIFE has followed and how they offer real help to people with chronic/urgent conditions. It is amazing how the organization formed real connections with the communities.

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Valerie Lindeborg

Our family had the privilege of participating in multiple trips with Nick [founder] and his amazing staff. Their expertise made the trips unforgettable while instilling in my boys the fundamentals of good character: selflessness, compassion, and empathy.

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Harry Vildibill
University of Georgia

As an aspiring physician, MEDLIFE motivated me to further continue my goal of becoming a doctor. In fact, I enjoyed the Tanzania Service Learning Trip so much that I decided to go on another trip to Cusco, Peru.