Are All Volunteer Programs Positive?

Unfortunately: no. 

"Volunteering" doesn't automatically mean you will be helping. Which is why before we send any volunteers anywhere we make sure the work isn't just safe and ethical. It's real.  

Before partnering with a program we ask to see their release rates; their animal handling protocols; check if they are accredited, registered, certified or part of any in-country or worldwide animal alliances, charities, colleges or trusts. We also visit them as the final step into making sure our clients are taking part in the best programs in the world. 

But why is this necessary:

Unfortunately there are a lot of groups out there that are taking advantage of volunteers, animals and people. People want to travel and give back and their good intentions and motivations shouldn't be taken advantage of.

Never volunteer on short term programs that have you with children or marginalised community members. In Cambodia regions 72% of children in 'orphanages' still have one or both parents (research conducted by UNICEF Cambodia). Some parents use their children as pawns on the street- begging for money instead of sending them to schools. Begging is seen to make more money immediately than the investment of school. When we give money to children begging on the street we lock them into a cycle of unsustainability, lower education and poverty. We strongly encourage you visit sites like ChildSafe International to learn more about child exploitation and how you can travel fairly. There are more than 215 million child laborers worldwide. If you see a child who you suspect is being forced to work please contact ChildSafe International or Interpol.

What about animals?

Unfortunately, while researching conservation and animal programs we are starting to see the same startling trends being noted with 'orphanage volunteering'. People are stealing animals from the wild, running fake sanctuaries and charging volunteers to 'help'. Volunteers are going, spending a lot of money and thinking they are helping but not actually doing anything but harming these individual animals and sometimes whole populations. Without the proper care these animals live terrible lives languishing in enclosures not suitable for them and eventually die of malnutrition or other very much preventable deaths. There are some programs that have volunteers working hands on with lions just to have those lions released into game hunting reserves. These blood lions are being raised not for conservation but for killing.

We all want to be hands and feet for programs helping the world around us. But, we have the responsibly to who we are helping to make good and educated choices so we are benefiting not hindering the cause.

Why We Will Never Volunteer With Kids.

When we started AEI we wanted to help people like you make the very best decisions while volunteering with animals. We visit all the programs, we look at release records, humane welfare standards must be high and we show preference to programs that have home stays- so you can live IN the community you are volunteering in.  We make sure the footprint you leave is as beneficial as possible- in the community and the environment. This is also the reason we don't have programs that have our volunteers working with kids. But why? Don't kids need help, too?

Did you know certain forms of volunteering can be harmful to the very people you’re trying to help? Did you know that 80% of children living in orphanages are not orphans and that volunteering at or giving to such places may be supporting the exploitation of children?

Working with children in institutions, such as orphanages or schools, is a job for local experts, not for volunteers who are just passing through. Children deserve more than good intentions, they need experienced, skilled and supervised caretakers and teachers  who know the local culture and language.

If you would like to support children, speak with a local child protection organization to see how you can help (we have a list of contacts for you). There are many ways you can support children without directly caring for them. Look for opportunities that involve empowering and transferring your skills to local staff to have a long-term  positive impacts, such as marketing or communications, website development, graphic design or fundraising (again, we can put you in touch with great organizations that would love for you to help).

We want to make sure we were always making a beneficial difference to the communities. We want to make sure that we do right by you, the community and the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community. For those reasons we decided to become a ChildSafe Supporter. We want to help protect children from abuse and exploitation and help our volunteers better protect children while abroad.

Do you have questions about ChildSafe or about how you can help the community without harming children? Just ask! That's why we are here!

Nora and Heather

PS: Are you a Floridian looking to volunteer locally? Check out All The Rooms for their blog about the best places to volunteer in Florida