It's part of what's known as a 'Gap Year' where young people take a break between school and university.
For many, it's a life changing experience.
But what do the schools get out of it? What do the students get out it?
Daniela Papi is the founder of a company that specialises in 'volunteerism' and has herself volunteered in Papua New Guinea among other places.
Speaker:Daniela Papi, founder of tour company for volunteers, PEPY
PAPI: Well I've spent six years here and when I first arrived, I was a big proponent of volunteer travel, having done a lot of it myself and also like you said, I started originally a volunteer travel company to promote this type of action. But over the course of six years, what I saw in this growing sector was that a lot of times were actually just causing waste and doing superfluous things, young people coming into teach English over and over each week, because they're running head shoulders and even toes every single week. But even more worrying is actually the corruption and the damage and negative impacts that unchecked volunteer travel that is not thoroughly researched is causing, when people are actually supporting groups that are causing more harm than good.
COUTTS: What kind of corruption or alleged corruption have you witnessed?
PAPI: So in Cambodia, there's especially an outspoken about the problem with orphanage tourism and orphanage volunteering and one of the biggest growth factors in volunteer travel and one of the most popular activities for young, people of all ages, are doing these type of volunteer work is to go and teach or visit an orphanage. And UNICEF released a report this past year that 76% of children in Cambodian orphanages have one or more living parents and what this actually means is the growth of orphanages in Cambodia has actually grown with the rate of tourism. Orphanage volunteering, orphanage visits are a large part of that and if people don't know which one to choose and which organisation to go for and really enterprising people can see there's a lot of money going into space. You actually have corrupt individuals starting "orphanages" just so they can get donations from visiting travellers.
COUTTS: All right. Well more specifically, Papua New Guinea, when you were there. What did you witness there in terms of the benefits and the negatives of volunteerism?
PAPI: Yeah. Well, in Papua New Guinea, I went with an organisation that was actually building schools and hadn't realised prior to my travel that it was actually quite a religious organisation. So one of the negative things that I saw through that particular instance was that in order to even get given a house, people had to state that they believed in Jesus and all these things. So it was basically philanthropy, aid and volunteer travel fuelling a religious agenda, which I didn't believe in.
COUTTS: All right. But there are some benefits. I mean volunteers do do good work, particularly in times of hardship after tsunamis and earthquakes?
PAPI: Indeed. I volunteered in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, I mean my particular skills were not useful. But yeah, I think volunteer travel is obviously built on good intentions, great intentions and there's a lot of ways that we can do fantastic things with our time. And I think some of the tips that I would give people. It's not, the first thing we need to understand is that if you're volunteering with an organisation. The first step is making sure that's a good organisation, because even if you're just let's say you're fundraising for them or your doing anything for them. If that organisation itself isn't built on some principles and isn't doing good work, well then you don't want to be furthering that organisation. And the second part of the decision, is OK, what am I going to be doing as an individual is the action that I'll be taking, is it a good use of my skills? Am I qualified to do that? Might I be causing more harm than good or changing the balance of power by doing that? So if there's an organisation you really, really believe in, maybe that just means filing papers or doing something in the office. If you really want to interact to a lot of young people, a lot of us of all ages really want to teach and some of my suggestions in that area are make sure you're not creating a void, make sure you're filling it rather than creating it. So, for example, if you go and you teach kids for a week or a month and then a new person's going to come along after you and a new person. Well, that might not be as good as if you actually go and volunteer helping teach the teachers. And then when you leave, actually that whole system was improved, because you were there, rather than leaving a void, because you were there.
COUTTS: Well, another volunteer, it's actually Sam, who works here, went as a teacher and he felt that he didn't do much good, because a) He didn't speak the language, so there was a communication issue with the students he was supposed to be teaching?
PAPI: Yeah. Well, I think this is also a huge problem that's growing when you have paid volunteer travel. Now, I'm not necessarily a proponent of just because of paid, it's bad - just because its free it's good. Actually, it doesn't matter free or bad it. Free does not mean good and paid does not mean bad. But one of the problems is, is if there's a lot of money going into the sector through paid volunteer travel, well that means well all of a sudden where shifting the priorities.
The priorities in the past might have been oh, this organisation needs someone to come volunteer. Let's find someone who has the skills and let's place them there.
Well now all of a sudden, if you have thousands of people willing to pay top dollar to go on this type of trip.
What I saw in Cambodia was volunteer organisations calling us and a lot of other organisation in throughout Cambodia, saying hey, can you take a volunteer? Can you take more volunteers? These volunteers are paying for this trip and they didn't have a place to put them. So you have to make sure that you're not just choosing a specific trip because it fits into your own desire for fun or adventure or what you think would be good impact, that you're actually doing a lot of research to make sure there's a need down the other end.
COUTTS: And also spending the money you do get in the local community to help the economy turn over?
PAPI: Definitely, and I think that's another era that we all, myself included not miss out on when we try and organise these trips and there are a number of organisations coming through that are proclaiming their impacts through their volunteer work and then they're staying in a hotel and by a corrupt government official or something like that. So definitely, you want to do you're research throughout the whole value chain of your travel.