The term “voluntourism” can bring about mixed emotions. It is oftentimes used to describe relatively expensive trips made by citizens of “wealthy” nations to international countries deemed underprivileged or “poor” in order to perform some type of volunteer work. While this in and of itself can be a great thing, many people argue that it would be more constructive and helpful to simply donate the money and allow local experts to perform the task themselves (often much more quickly). For a nice article delving further into this topic, take a look at The Voluntourists Dilemma as published in the NY Times.
Despite the negative connotations, I personally feel that a well designed voluntour trip can both aid the area you are visiting in addition to giving the tourist a chance to experience a more authentic trip. This is especially true if the tourist can bring skills with them that are currently under in short supply in the local area. Veterinary medicine offers one of these niche opportunities. While most countries have very well trained and skilled veterinarians, areas that struggle with a large stray dog or cat population are typically in need of low cost spay/neuter and vaccination clinics to help reduce the overpopulation of stray animals in the area. Often local veterinarians cannot manage this huge task due to lack of funding and time. After all, they are running their own successful practices and it takes significant funding to treat the stray animals. This scenario is also true in low-income areas where the majority of owners of the cats and dogs do not have the spare income to pay for routine veterinary care (including sterilization), resulting in the absence of a local veterinary clinic . In these areas, it can be a great help for veterinary tourists to join forces with local veterinary staff in order to perform large clinics to care for the under served cats and dogs in the area.
During veterinary school, many of my classmates (myself included) participated in these events as a way to gain more hands on veterinary experience. Hands-on surgical experience is in relatively short supply during veterinary school training. Without participating in spay/neuter clinics and searching out externships that allow for additional training in surgical procedures, my veterinary school offered only a handful of opportunities to perform surgery in a real-life setting. While there are numerous programs to choose from, the two that most of my classmates participted in were VIDA (an international program) and RAVS (a program based in the United States). I heard great reviews about both.
I personally participated in a 2-week voluntourism project with VIDA. I found the experience to be a wonderful combination of travel, opportunity to work on my veterinary skills, and value to the local communities. We worked with local veterinarians to set up the spay/neuter and vaccine clinics for cats and dogs. We also spent one day vaccinating cows and a few other farm animals. I would highly recommend the experience to any veterinary student. However, I do recognize that I only have the perspective of a voluntourist. Do any of my blog visitors live in a region of the world that hosts these kinds of projects? Any input on the programs from a different point of view?
Currently, I am working on planning another voluntourist trip (as a veterinarian this time – rather than a student). Below is my personal list of 5 international veterinary volunteer programs that I am interested in participating with/considering for my next veterinary volunteering trip. If you have already volunteered with one of these organizations or know of any other great veterinary volunteer programs, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
- Veterinarians Without Borders
- World Vets
- Vets Beyond Borders
- Mission Rabies
- World Veterinary Service
As a final note, I also found this website, Kookaburra Vets, that has a great international job list. Alright, now it is time to finish planning my next adventure.