Why do I have to pay to volunteer?

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September 22nd 2011
Published: September 22nd 2011
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Tropical Adventures works hard to keep its costs and fees as low as possible. Still, for several people it can be unclear why they have to pay for volunteer programs. I´ve heard several opinions that it is unethical and so on, therefore I consider as a must to provide a proper explanation on how it actually works. I cannot speak for other organizations, but I can give you a perspective from our sight.

We have made several analyzes of certain impoverished areas of the country. This comprises difficult travel and meeting with untold numbers of communities and individuals. We want to know what real needs are present and how we can be of assistance. The truth is, not all communities are even ready to accept volunteer help. It was a tough job narrowing down to just a handful projects from our long list of serious needs.

We have also found that tourism in Costa Rica, the number one industry here, had many negative effects on the people in the country. As a natural by-product of many visitors spending time and money in the country, inflation has run rampant. Because wages move at a snail´s pace, Costa Ricans get priced out of homes and can´t afford basics such as food.

Therefore, from the beginning, objectives of Tropical Adventures have been threefold:

1) Convert would-be tourists from inadvertently exploiting the country to volunteers who could make long-lasting, positive and eco-friendly impacts on the country and people.

2) Provide the volunteers with life-changing, positive experiences, so instead of returning home with just vacation photos, they can return having learned much more about the world and about themselves.

3) Use the money we are able to generate to keep inside the communities we’re trying to help.

Fees of our projects are set up to cover the various necessary expenses of operating the program. These costs include for instance volunteer transportation to the place, volunteer training, food, medical insurance and support for the generous host families who open their homes to our participants. Some of the extra costs go towards our providing in-country support personnel, as well as organizing the trip itself. The costs go to the wide range of other services, such as orientation costs, assistance with planning excursions and activities, free guided tours and 24-hour-in-country emergency service.

What money is left over after these expenses are paid goes towards donations we give to keep our projects running, research, employee salaries and basic administrative costs. Besides a few costs such as advertising that is done around the world to attract volunteers, all of the money we receive stays in Costa Rica.

Apart from all of this, majority of individuals, communities, and non-profit organizations in Costa Rica who are in most need of help do not speak English. So if a person has an interest in helping those in need here, they would have problems to identify who actually needs help and what kind of help they need, communicate with these groups about all the details and to best prepare themselves for the trip and their time here. We can handle all the details from A to Z.

Maybe you are thinking why not to take your money and donate it directly to local projects. In a perfect world, that is a great idea. However in Latin America (and elsewhere in the world), sadly, the majority of donated cash ends up in the pockets of individuals who either keep the money for themselves entirely or have no experience in properly managing those funds.

I hope now the question “why do you have to pay to volunteer” is clearer to you and I´ve helped you to understand it more.

Tropical Adventures would not be able to support our many community development programs without your assistance. Thank you for your support!

(Scott Pralinsky, Executive Director of Tropical Adventures)


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