The best books about international volunteering

The Books I Picked & Why

Ours to Explore: Privilege, Power, and the Paradox of Voluntourism

By Pippa Biddle

Ours to Explore: Privilege, Power, and the Paradox of Voluntourism

Why this book?

This excellently researched and hot-off-the-press book delves into the roots of the phenomenon that we call “voluntourism” today, examining how colonialism, paternalistic attitudes, and even racism underlie the assumption that the rest of the world needs “help” from the west. Going right back to the eighteenth century, and pulling together the disparate threads of tourism, aid work, and missionary activity, this book seeks to unpack the dark past of the industry and explores why good intentions can end up doing harm. The book also proposes a path for the future of equitable travel that puts at its heart the overseas communities that the industry purports to help.


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Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

By Conor Grennan

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

Why this book?

While volunteering at an orphanage in Nepal, Conor Grennan stumbled across the dark truth that the children he had become close to were not orphans at all. In fact, they had families, and they had been trafficked into institutions that were making a profit from unsuspecting tourists and volunteers like himself...

Brutally honest and humorous at times, this book is a portrayal of the traps that international volunteers can unwittingly fall into. It uncovers a whole ecosystem of exploitation and tells the inspirational tale of the authors’ quest to end orphanage trafficking.


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How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas

By Joseph Collins, Stefano DeZerega, Zahara Heckscher

How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas

Why this book?

A comprehensive guide for potential volunteers wishing to make the world a better place. It includes first-hand stories, worksheets, and evaluative information about hundreds of volunteer organisations.

Written by veteran volunteers who are all founders of respected organizations, the book covers the whole process of volunteering, from how to decide if international volunteering is right for you, to choosing the right program, to what to do before and after you go abroad. It also covers the vital political and social contexts of people from the US volunteering abroad, and how to be aware of these factors to ensure you volunteer effectively.


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Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

By Jane Wilson-Howarth

Glimpse of Eternal Snows: A Journey of Love and Loss in the Himalayas

Why this book?

A poignantly written memoir about a couple’s decision to volunteer in remote Nepal with their three young sons, one with a severe disability. Jane is a doctor and her husband is an engineer, and while they attempt to make a difference in the lives of the people they live and work amongst, they also strive to provide the best possible lives for their children. This includes baby David, whose alternative life is to be stocked up with medication and given daily blood tests in UK hospitals, as an ‘interesting medical case’. 

A zoologist by training, Wilson-Howarth’s prose is wonderfully observant of the natural environment, and little David is bound to capture every reader’s heart.


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Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World

By Anu Taranath

Beyond Guilt Trips: Mindful Travel in an Unequal World

Why this book?

This book is written for the millions of well-intentioned travellers and volunteers who travel to low-income countries to learn about and “help” people and cultures different from their own. Taranath unflinchingly confronts the awkward feelings of guilt, shame, and excess privilege that inevitably arise from international (and even inter-neighbourhood) travel. In their place, she offers a more nuanced look at how we fit in the intersectional jigsaw puzzle of global inequity, and how we can work to transform these feelings into the capacity to work towards justice. 

Beyond Guilt Trips is an essential companion to all those leading, engaging in, or contemplating travel, to ensure they embark on an inwards journey that mirrors the outward one.


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