Volunteering Abroad vs. Volunteering at Home

Why are you flying halfway across the world to volunteer when there are so many problems in your own community?

To be completely honest, when I was first posed this question, I was stumped. Now that I’ve grown a little older and a little wiser I think I’m finally prepared to answer it. What’s my answer? It’s actually quite simple. I want to.

I want to be drawn into a new culture. I want to expand my own understanding of the world and the people in it. I want to take myself out of my daily grind so that I can actually appreciate my time volunteering and bring my best, unhindered self.

I’m not ashamed of this. I’m not ashamed to say that when I volunteer I have selfish reasons for doing so. We all do. We choose one cause over another because we are more drawn to it. It’s not because we’ve taken a sober cost-benefit analysis that tells us one group’s cause is more important than another. And that’s okay. We are constantly telling people to follow their passions. Why should it be any different when we volunteer?

Volunteering in Guatemala

Our team volunteering in Guatemala

The truth is, the question is flawed. The reasoning behind the question is: ‘why help someone far from you, when you can help someone close to you?’ The question implies that you should put your ‘community’ or your ‘clan’ above the needs of others. That you should look out for your own kind before you extend your hand to someone different from yourself. If you follow that logic to its conclusion, the question then becomes ‘why would you help anyone other than yourself?’.

Doesn’t that kind of, you know, contradict the very concept of volunteering?

Smarter people than me have already figured out why helping others is a good thing. All I can recommend is that you follow your passions and interests. Look for a volunteering position that you feel you can learn from. Something that will challenge you and force you to grow. Something that will push you to be your best self. It doesn’t matter if it’s halfway across the world or just across the street.

Let the armchair cynics scoff and cry futile. They’re stuck in the armchair and you’re already out the door and into the world.

Written by: Eyal Rosenblum, Executive Director of Operation Groundswell