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PARSA CF University: Voluntourism an Emerging Travel Trend for the Medical Community

PARSA Community Foundation

Voluntourism has gained prominence throughout the past few years and in a suffering economy, is becoming an increasingly popular option for travelers eager to make a difference in the world. But just what is voluntourism exactly?

Voluntourism is essentially a volunteer vacation. Instead of opting for a luxurious trip to a seaside resort or hilltop chateau, some professionals, particularly those in the medical community, find themselves seeking humanitarian volunteer opportunities where they can help make the world a better place. Many humanitarian volunteers are able to give a week or two at a time, but some dedicate years and even a whole career to volunteering abroad.

The majority of humanitarian organizations pay for travel, food and housing only for long-term volunteers and are generally unable to cover travel costs for short-term service. However, the cost of travel while volunteering for a tax-exempt organization is usually tax-deductible. Professional tax advice is recommended to answer this question on a case-by-case basis.

As a viable and sustainable alternative to traditional travel, prospective medical volunteers are asking themselves "how can I find a good volunteer travel program?"

Given the range of options available, identifying the right program will take a fair amount of research and reflection. PARSA Community Foundation offers a few tips to get you started:

First, assess your personal interests. This will help you match your goals with the right organization. You may want to ask yourself:

  • How much of my trip do I want to dedicate to volunteering and how much to travel?
  • How sensitive am I to poverty and health issues?
  • What do I hope to get out of the experience? What do I hope to contribute?
  • Where do I want to go, and why?
  • What are my strengths and interests and how can I use them in humanitarian volunteering?
  • How long do I want to go for and during what time of year?

Start your search. Searching for "volunteer tourism" online will yield over two million results! If you have identified your interests, get more specific and search "volunteer travel and medicine in Africa," for example, and you will narrow your search considerably. Talking to past volunteers will help you gain an idea of what to expect and can help steer you in the right direction as well.

Once you have found a few organizations offering volunteer travel programs, evaluate these organizations. Some questions you may want to consider are:

  • How long has the organization been operating? Does the organization envision itself carrying out its mission in a long-term and sustainable manner?
  • How do they measure results?
  • Do they speak the local language?
  • How involved is the local community and/or country with this organization? Is the organization's project one which the host community and/or country needs?
  • How are the funds used? Does the organization contribute part of the program fee to the long-term sustainability of a community and its resources?

Voluntourism provides a wide range of benefits not only to the host community, but to the volunteer as well. Some reasons that people volunteer include:

  • Exposure to challenging new problems
  • A chance to demonstrate commitment to and interest in the underserved
  • Encountering new cultures and customs
  • A chance to learn new skills, be they in medicine, teaching, or community organizing
  • A belief that volunteering is a positive life experience
  • Medical community service is expected of most medical schools' admission programs and greatly increases the chance of a university applicant's chances of acceptance into a competitive program

To help you get started on your search, PARSA CF has compiled some resources to help you identify organizations around the world that are actively seeking volunteers, particularly in the medical field:

  • Child Family Health International (CFHI) places health science students on global health education programs in ways that are socially responsible and financially just. In 2007, a grant from PARSA CF enabled CFHI to send two Iranian-American medical students abroad to assist communities in developing nations.
  • houses an indispensable International Volunteerism Resource Center devoted to helping people make informed decisions about volunteering abroad. In addition to useful articles on the different types of voluntourism, the center offers a discussion board devoted to the topic.
  • The International Medical Volunteers Association promotes and facilitates voluntary medical activity through education and information. The organization assists volunteer-seeking organizations in locating volunteers to work in their programs by providing a forum for project cooperation.  
  • Relief Workers International helps doctors provide medical care to hundreds of people in villages throughout India. RWI combines adventure travel excursions with providing critical medical care to rural areas. 
  • is an organization dedicated to educating and disseminating information about volunteer travel in their Voluntourist newsletter and on their website. The site lists organizations seeking volunteers as well as providing tips for prospective volunteers.
  • For medical professionals, the American Academy of Pediatrics maintains an online database of service opportunities that is searchable by country.

Visiting the above resources will help expand your knowledge and assist you in finding the ideal volunteer position to match your interests and skills. There is a volunteer opportunity out there for everyone. It just takes a little effort to find the perfect fit!

PARSA CF University is an educational newsletter feature that highlights important philanthropic questions and provides informative, critical answers. PARSA CF University provides a starting point in the reader's quest to learn more about the given topic.

... Payvand News - 05/11/09 ... --

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