"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.