Heather Newgen began volunteering internationally in 2008, and had to learn the hard way, the difference between honest programs that care about volunteers and the communities they serve and corrupt ones that are lining their own pockets while exploiting the people they are supposed to be helping.
Her first time going abroad, Heather assisted local staff in Rabat, Morocco taking care of children with cerebral palsy. The program was well managed and volunteers worked closely with staff to help improve the children’s quality of life. In the evenings, Heather participated in language, cooking and cultural lessons provided by the organization, trying to learn as much as possible about the country and people she was helping. Her experience in Morocco inspired Heather to become a global citizen and help others around the world, but she ran into trouble along the way.
The following year she joined an organization to help street kids in India. The program seemed okay online, but quickly turned into a nightmare from the time she set foot in New Delhi. Heather had unknowingly signed up with a dishonest, corrupt and mismanaged company. The accommodations – a cramped, cockroach-infested basement with no windows – were the first clue. The second? When volunteers were asked to find their own way to the slums, which was a safety concern among the women in the group. Once Heather got to the streets to begin working with the children, she found that there was no real plan to use volunteers. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to make a difference, she left the program early, as did many others.
Afterward, Heather continued to volunteer around the world, learning more and more about the pros and cons of voluntourism during her travels.
In 2014, she decided to launch The Voluntourist, a free resource with information about how to find ethical organizations, while avoiding the dishonest ones.
The Voluntourist’s goal is to help connect volunteers with the best programs available in order to make the biggest impact possible.