Cambodia, Developing countries, Laos, Myanmar, Poverty, Poverty Tourism, Responsible Tourism, Social problems, South East Asia, Thailand, Travel, Voluntourism

So you want to volunteer to teach in a developing country

It is great that you have the urge to help, but before you jump online and book your flights, stop and ask yourself the following questions.

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Am I qualified?

Firstly, are you a qualified teacher? Many people who visit Cambodia to ‘teach’ are unqualified teenagers or young adults who are still learning themselves. Would you want your child to learn from someone who wasn’t qualified to teach; who didn’t possess the necessary skills to control a class; who may be so unsuitable to teach that they deter your students from learning? Nup? I didn’t think so. Let’s stop thinking that people in developing countries deserve second-best, and strive to give them what everyone in the world deserves – quality education.

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Is there a need?

This is a good one. Are you actually needed? I know, I know, it can be a bit of a downer to know that you aren’t needed, but we should be celebrating the fact that there are qualified teachers in Cambodia who can teach and interact with students in an appropriate cultural context. If an NGO doesn’t have qualified teachers, it could be because they are lacking the budget to fund these teachers (believe me, salaries are on the rise and it can be difficult to stay competitive when you have limited funds). How about you help fundraise for the cause instead, once you have vetted that it is a legitimate NGO?

Many NGO’s also have you ‘assist’ a local teacher, or have the local teacher ‘assist’ you. Stop and think how you would feel doing your job and having a stranger come in to tell you how to do things better (even though they have no idea about your local context), take your duties from you, or disrupt what you have worked so hard to build up (such as your students respect and attention). It wouldn’t feel very good, and you may feel unmotivated to continue doing your job once that person goes, which would then affect the beneficiaries. We wouldn’t want that, would we?

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Do I have to pay?

If an NGO really IS in need of your help, they won’t ask you to pay or fundraise for them. If they are asking for a fee, or a ‘donation’, chances are that they are only accepting volunteers as a money generating mission. What you should be looking for is organisations who, for whatever reason, don’t have access to qualified teachers and genuinely need your help.

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Am I planning on spending more than a month volunteering?

Would you like to study at an organisation where volunteers are coming and going every month? There isn’t consistency, there are potential detachment issues for the students, it takes the volunteers some time to settle in to the new country and context….there are just so many reasons why the standard ‘one month’ volunteering schedule just isn’t a viable option. If you were planning on volunteering to teach, you need to be prepared to spend a decent amount of time there. I understand that it isn’t an option for most people, however maybe you should then think that it isn’t what is best for the people you are trying to help.

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Have you thoroughly researched the country?

OK, so your friend visited Cambodia and thought it was awesome, so you just had to jump on that train. Or maybe you had already visited the country and fallen in love with the people. That doesn’t mean you really know everything about it. There are so many issues in this country. Even after living here for five years, I am discovering new ones every day. While you may think that the country you want to volunteer in is fabulous, there is always more than meets the eye, and you have to be prepared for that. So hop onto Google and research the shit out of the country before you make the decision to spend an extended period of time there.

“Be careful because Cambodia is the most dangerous country you will ever visit. You will fall in love with it and eventually it will break your heart.” – Joseph Mussomeli, former US Ambassador to Cambodia.

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Is there a more effective way I can help?

Chances are, yes. Instead of volunteering to teach, you can:

  • Hold a fundraiser in your home country and donate it to fund a local teachers salary instead
  • Become a monthly donor, so the NGO has a consistent stream of income
  • Still visit the country, but be a responsible traveller instead of a voluntourist
  • If you are a skilled volunteer, search www.idealist.org for opportunities where you can capacity build staff or contribute to the sustainability of an organisation
  • Join a fundraising board to raise funds for an organisation