One of travel’s most controversial topics seems to be voluntourism. The idea of volunteering abroad isn’t always seen as being a good thing, and that’s because there are many unreliable companies out there. Because of this ugly side of volunteering abroad, I was hesitant participate in a program, until I was approached by Leave UR Mark . After talking to them about their programs, I made the decision to volunteer in Bangalore and see for myself what volunteering abroad was all about.
During my short time, I learned so much from volunteering with Leave UR Mark, including the fact that there are reliable volunteer and internship programs around the globe, you just need to know what to look for. As with everything, it’s important to do your research ahead of time. If you do, you’re likely to find companies who are doing the right thing and a way to make a difference.
Not all volunteer programs are created equally
The biggest discovery I made was that not all volunteer companies are the same and there’s a lot that makes Leave UR Mark stand out. To start, Leave UR Mark was created in India to benefit the people who live there. Plus, it’s the only country they focus on. This may not sound that important, but it makes all the difference because it allows them to really help the programs they work with. They are very involved with local organizations and make sure that the placement is a fit for both the volunteer and organization. I saw first-hand how involved they are with the organizations and the way they look for other programs to support. They also don’t spend a ton of money on marketing, choosing instead to rely on word of mouth, which means all their money goes to supporting and running their programs.
It can be affordable
Volunteering abroad doesn’t have to break the bank, and that’s what I appreciate about Leave UR Mark’s programs. Offering volunteer opportunities in both Bangalore and Goa, with the ability to combine a stay at both, prices begin at just $1,089 for two weeks. If you look at this number compared with other volunteer programs, you’ll be impressed, especially considering all you get. To start, your accommodations are a penthouse in a gorgeous area of Bangalore, with all the conveniences you could need. There’s wi-fi, dinner each night, a washing machine, and hot water. There’s also pre-departure and arrival support, as well as local staff to help you get settled in your placement and to help you with weekend travel options.
Supportive staff makes all the difference
One aspect of volunteering with Leave UR Mark that I loved and appreciated was the support that I got, which started as soon as I signed up. From the pre-departure meeting to my arrival orientation, I felt confident and ready to begin my program. I was also taken to my placement and introduced to staff before beginning my volunteer work, which was invaluable. Getting to know what I was going to be doing and being introduced to the program before meeting the kids and starting was key in making sure I was prepared. It was also great to have support in terms of choosing weekend trips and sites to see in the city. Living in a new city can be scary, but the staff make it easy to adjust to life abroad, and they are there to offer help whenever it may be needed.
You can make a difference
I’ve heard from so many people that you can’t make a difference when you volunteer, especially when it’s for a short amount of time, but after my experience, I disagree. Leave UR Mark places you where they know you’ll be useful based on your experiences, so as a former teacher, I was working with kids. Each day, I’d visit the boys after school and spend time with them. We’d play games or soccer, dance, do yoga, and I taught them about space because we took them to the planetarium during my last day. That time meant everything to them, as I could give them all of my attention, attention that they weren’t always getting. I also plan on keeping in touch with them, and when I visit Bangalore in the future, I will go back to see them. Maybe I can’t change the world, but I couldn’t change the world as a teacher either, but to a child, your time and attention can mean everything. I also know that this program is supported by Leave UR Mark on a consistent basis and that more volunteers will arrive to be the boys and teach them new things.
Two weeks is not long enough
Very quickly, I realized that my two week stay was not long enough. I was just going to get to know the boys, only to leave them. This is why Leave UR Mark suggests staying for at least four weeks, though ideally for eight. In this time frame, you really have the opportunity to make a difference in the work you are doing and can truly help the community. Your skills can be used to do good in the world, and while in two weeks you gain some exposure, it’s simply not long enough to make a lasting impact.
Would I volunteer abroad again? Absolutely, especially now that I have some standards to judge programs by. After volunteering with Leave UR Mark, I have a restored faith in volunteering abroad, especially when I have seen how beneficial certain programs can be to different communities. There are people doing some amazing things out there, and we can’t lump all volunteer programs together. I can’t speak on behalf of all of them, but I can speak on behalf of Leave UR Mark, and I’d gladly volunteer with them again in the future.
A special thank you to Leave UR Mark for having me for two weeks. As always, all opinions are my own.