How to choose a reputable volunteering program and really make a difference

The rise in millenial volunteering programs has been rapid in recent years, as has the profile of international development as a discipline. Many young people are becoming more aware of the impact they can help to drive change - for the lives of others, for the environment and for wildlife. Mainstream media and social media are both vehicles for drawing attention to communities in crisis, or perhaps areas under environmental threat. These factors have contributed to create a robust volunteer travel industry, with many options ranging from short tours helping specific regions, to broader educational programs that teach methodologies around sustainable practice, management and logistics crucial to drive progression and economic growth. 

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The question of how these visitors from more developed nations should engage with the less developed world is an incredibly complex one. One that requires perspective from both sides.

If you are scrolling the web looking for a constructive experience - both for yourself and for a community -  what things should you be aware of when considering an overseas ‘service learning’ tour?


Make sure it’s a two-way street

Too often we focus on the material concerns in a community project. What we will give or what we will build. The focus of a constructive tour should be to ensure participants improve their knowledge of the world through a shared experience with a community. A a participant you should be encouraged to learn new skills from your hosts as well as sharing some of your home culture. A two-way street.


Respect the locals

You want to make sure that the local communities you are visiting are treated well, and that the project will benefit them in the long term. Some volunteer organisations run repetitive tours to villages or orphanages where their presence - and coming and going - can be very unsettling and confusing for young local children. It is important that the organisation you travel with have multi-year plans in place to provide support, that local community leaders have been involved in the creation of these, and that constant dialogue is in place to assess effectiveness and any negative impacts that might arise. At the end of the day this type of travel is about helping first and foremost. 


Gain key skills to make you a more valuable contributor

Even though as a participant you may lack the skills of tradesmen, you can help on projects of the communities with whom you work. Keep an eye out for programs that offer a range of skill based learning within the program itself - this can range from basic building skills such as laying foundations and concrete, to needs assessment of local communities, logistics training in developing world situations, and other such essential experience that will stand you in good stead to not only complete your tour with great effectiveness but also have gained key skills for the future.


Learn about the place you are going to

Through your ‘service learning’ program, you should be encouraged to learn about particular issues faced by the countries to which you travel. Many programs such as the International Educator Program from Pure Exploration incorporate and introduction to each region as the tour progresses, so you have an understanding of what local people are dealing with on a daily basis, what cultural nuances affect how they live, what the economic or political environment is like. The more you learn the more you can understand of the developing world, as well as (hopefully) breaking down assumptions or prejudices about the people these issues affect. This will in turn affect how you communicate with locals and hopefully become more effective at helping them.

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There’s no such thing as a short term project

Participants visit for only a short time so the work you do must be driven by the community to ensure it will be beneficial in the long term. Working hand in hand with local development organisations should be high priority for the program you choose, this relationship will help ensure any projects completed are worthwhile and future focused.


Making a difference

As a participant in a service program, you should feel proud of your input into these enduring developmental projects, a key cog in the wheel to drive change. Always keep this in mind when choosing your program - is this organisation looking to drive long-term change in a region, and would I be proud to be part of that? 

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Along with numerous other global adventure travel programs, Pure Exploration have a fantastic 12 week global International Educator Program that helps participants build confidence in their global travelling skills, their ability to plan, develop and execute effective community engagement projects, environmental service and volunteer programs, and ready to tackle any new venture they may be planning. 

If you'd like to check out the detailed trip itinerary for the International Educator Program, pop in your details below!


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11th June 2019

And they're off!! Over the next 12 weeks the students on our Expedition Leader program will be sharing their incredible journey with us..Check out blog #1 written by Chloe from Canada - filling us in on arriving into Ecuador and how things went for orientation week 🔥

8th June 2019

Day one of the Expedition Leader program 💥 Instructors Keri & Jess are taking the team through orientation to set everyone up mentally for the next three months of travel and experiential education. The crew range from 18-34yo, hailing from Aus, Canada, the US and Hungary 🙌 📷: Jessica Thomas

5th June 2019

Pure Exploration Instructors Keri & Jess have arrived in Quito, Ecuador - ready to welcome the crew to the start of the Expedition Leader Program in a couple of days..The new students will be learning about adventure travel management, group leadership, logistics, expedition style travel in developing regions, along with trekking in some of the world’s most famous and spectacular mountainous and remote regions. Have the best time guys, we can't wait for updates! 🔥 #expeditionleaderprogram #ELP #Pureexploration

18th April 2019

This exceptional bunch of humans have finished up their time with us on the Adventure Guide Program in NZ. Its been so fun having them join us, alongside their awesome instructor Rosey. Keep in touch guys! 😘

8th April 2019

This is Torres del Paine. No explanation required really. So rad. Is Patagonia on your bucket list yet? Go on...

6th April 2019

Our adventure programs take you to some amazing places around the world. The pic is the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Southern China. If you're a hiker, you need to get here. Learn more about where we travel here

4th April 2019

These guys are busy with their NZOIA assessments this week, the final step in our program to putting all the pieces together as far as skills and experiences go. Go team!

25th March 2019

Time to meet the team! This is John. He is one of our Program Instructors, currently leading a group completing the Adventure Guide Program in Queenstown, New Zealand. John grew up enjoying the outdoors of Florida. Having joined the military when he turned 18, he soon began traveling and seeing the world, thus instilling in him a passion for travel. In the military as a JTAC, he was responsible for directing the action of combat aircraft. He received training not only in his core job skills but also navigation, survival, and bushcraft. After the military, he moved to Bend, Oregon to pursue his helicopter pilots license. Climbing in the countless places available to him in Central Oregon, he soon developed a passion for the sport as well as a deeper appreciation for the outdoors. John is a legend with a heart of gold, and an even bigger appetite - for food and for the outdoors! It's awesome having him on our team

24th March 2019

Enjoying the long warm days of Autumn in New Zealand with a week in the glorious surrounds of Mt Cook National Park.

20th March 2019

Adventure Guide Program crew meeting some key adventure tourism industry employers from around New Zealand tonight at our networking event. It's so great to be able to make these connections and get CVs straight into the key recruiters hands.

19th March 2019

Step away from the desk job and join us for a few months of outdoor fun. Go on...

17th March 2019

Orientation week in New Zealand is a chance to settle in, get to know your new team mates and explore this new land which will become home for the next 12 weeks.

14th March 2019

What types of people come on our programs? People from all over the globe join us for adventure travel missions. Generally we see people who are between 19 - 32 years old - taking a break before college, taking a break for getting into the workplace, taking a break from their work desk! It's all about immersing yourself in the outdoors, forgetting the pressures of everyday and enjoying feeling fit, healthy and renews by visiting new places. Join the crew!

12th March 2019

A good spot for reflection (and a cup of tea) after a big week exploring the New Zealand back country.

10th March 2019

It's time to get the hiking backpack out of the cupboard and buy a ticket abroad. Go on....

8th March 2019

Our adventure travel programs are all about living life to the full, getting away from your work desk, putting down that phone and refreshing your soul. Fresh air, fascinating cultures, like minded mates, learning new skills. Join the crew and take some time to focus on you!

8th March 2019

Happy #internationalwomensday ! Women lead the way in so many ways. We are proud to offer young women from around the world the chance to gain confidence in themselves and their skills. Bring on the future!

8th March 2019

When your thousands of kms from home, if you're lucky, you'll find another kind of oddball/amazing family to call your own.

6th March 2019

Views for days

5th March 2019

New kiwi maaaaaaaaates... 🐑🐑🐑

5th March 2019

A huge welcome to the newest crew to join us for an Adventure Guide Program. Enjoy your awesome Orientation Week, then it's business time!

3rd March 2019

Outdoor climbing is a bit scary and can take you a bit to get your head around. But like anything else that pushes you out of your comfort zone, the elation felt with nailing it is unreal! Would you be game to hang from a 20 metre rock face?

1st March 2019

From ultra-light bivvy bags, moisture wicking tops and merino bottoms, to polarized sunglasses, flint firelighters and seam-sealed jackets ... gear nerds are our kinds of people.

1st March 2019

Hailing from: The Netherlands, United Kingdom, Sweden, USA, Australia, Greece, Poland and Canada!!! Introducing the March Adventure guide crew on their first day in Queenstown 🙌 Welcome team we are so stoked to have you here!