Prior to COVID-19, volunteering was widely viewed as an international affair. Volunteers would travel overseas to developing countries to assist in instituting orphanages, schools, and other community projects. However, due to travel restrictions relative to the pandemic, numerous international volunteer opportunities were closed down. Volunteers who intended to embark on mission trips in the past year and a half were disappointed to find out that their plans had been cancelled. Those who were still interested in serving others sought out different ways to volunteer, and subsequently turned to local nonprofit organizations based right here in the United States of America. Although for many years, traveling abroad has dominated the narrative of volunteering, due to COVID-19 and limited travel, volunteers and nonprofits alike have had the opportunity to reap the benefits of “giving back” locally in the United States of America.
There are many upsides to volunteering locally versus internationally. Firstly, though it may seem fun to travel and see new countries, many who volunteer in developing nations are out of touch and disconnected from the community they are trying to help, as they are not knowledgeable on the community’s culture, language, and practices. On the other hand, those who volunteer locally feel more in tune with the members of the community and have a more familial relationship with other volunteers working in the nonprofit. Secondly, those who volunteer locally can donate more of their time to their service. Most international mission trips are not long-lasting opportunities, and a majority of them last between a few weeks to a month. In that short period of time, a volunteer is not able to maximize their service impact, and they also aren’t able to see the fruits of their efforts once they leave. However, when a volunteer commits to a local nonprofit organization, they can continuously see the positive effect their hard work and generous service has on the community, and that is far more rewarding.
Lastly, there has been a lot of controversy swirling around the prospect of mission trips. Those who have conducted research on these international opportunities have found that, in most cases, the trips are more exploitative than altruistic. Volunteers are not given the proper orientation for the service they will be partaking in, and because of this, they are not able to provide the proper caliber of work for the developing community. Furthermore, many in the nonprofit community worry that these mission trips are perpetuating the ‘white savior’ complex. People travel to third and second world countries on the notion that they are changing the lives of those in these countries, and this mindset reinforces a notion that people in these areas of the world need saving from first-world liberators. However, by volunteering locally, volunteers can help people within their community whom they have a stronger connection to.
There are over 3,000 nonprofits in the Triangle area that you can support. In the Durham-Chapel Hill area alone, there is a nonprofit for every 100 residents. After the pandemic, many of these organizations will be seeking service from those in the community. Now is the perfect time to make the commitment and help make your community a brighter place.
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Jordan Hannan and Jordan Lappin