Learning Service

The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad

By Claire Bennett, Joseph Collins, Zahara Heckscher, Daniela Papi-Thornton

Format: Paperback

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Additional Information

Additional Information

Format Paperback
Imprint Red Press
Publication Date 4 Sep 2018
ISBN 9781912157068

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Press Reviews

Noam Chomsky: Philosopher, historian, social critic, author and activist

"This is an extraordinary contribution to the conversation on what effective volunteer service looks like, and how a learning service approach enriches volunteers and communities in equal measure. This book brings together theory, practice, and the wisdom of experience to map the landscape of challenges and opportunities you'll face before you leave, when you arrive, and after you return home. A manifesto for doing good well, this is an indispensable book for anyone volunteering overseas.”

Elizabeth Becker: Author of Overbooked: The Exploding Business of Travel and Tourism

"Learning Service is a must read for anyone considering volunteer tourism. Whether you are a would-be volunteer or an organization sending volunteer tourists abroad, this wise book gives clear warnings about the manifold and serious mistakes being made through insensitivity to outright corruption. The authors use their own years of trial and error as well as a deep understanding of current research to guide us to a humane and deeply-satisfying approach to helping ourselves learn through service.”

Philip Goodwin: CEO of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)

"Over the last few decades, international volunteering has grown in popularity, accessibility, and complexity. Learning Service explores the challenges for the sector, tackling the ethics and impact of international volunteering while simultaneously offering one simple message: if you want to help, you have to be willing to learn. It is packed with real-life stories that are in turn engaging and entertaining, as well as giving pause for thought. Learning Service's core message seamlessly aligns with VSO's People First theory of change, developed through six decades of experience in this field. This is recommended reading for all those considering volunteering in a developing country.”

Rishi Bhandari, Volunteer Host and Educational Travel Guide

"Growing up in Nepal I witnessed the upsurge of volunteer tourism, noticing the mismatch between what the volunteers thought they were doing and the actual impact of their actions. I had always wished that there was a way to call them out on this and help volunteers understand the complexity of the issues they were engaging in, and also transform what they were doing for the better. Reading this book I saw my wish had come true. I hope it lands into the hands of every single person who wants to do ‘service' to the world, as it will have a profound impact on the way they choose to do it.” 

Costas Christ, Editor-at-Large and Senior Advisor, National Geographic Travel

"If you are among the growing number of today's travelers eager to give back in a positive way to the people and places you visit, then read this book now. The authors provide a profound understanding of what it takes to have a meaningful volunteer experience abroad with important insights that will also help guide you on a lifelong journey to make the world a better place.”

Frances Moore Lappé: Author of 19 books including Diet for a Small Planet, and Co-Founder of Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy

"Volunteering overseas is life changing, and getting and giving the most from it requires an experienced partner. Learning Service is that partner, as the authors offer their combined lifetimes of accumulated knowledge. Gain insight and confidence for an adventure more rewarding than you'd ever imagined.”

Ayelet Waldman: Bestselling author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace

"An illuminating approach to international volunteering, this book will help you change lives for the better, including your own. Seasoned travelers as well as first-time volunteers will find the stories presented here fascinating and thought-provoking, timely and awe-inspiring. More than just a guide to volunteering, this is a tribute to activism in all its forms.”

Ben Keene: Founder of Tribewanted and Co-Lead of Escape the City's Escape School

"The idea of helping out people less well-off than you in an exotic land is an intoxicating force. It's never been easier to ‘volunteer abroad'. But only if matching good intention and wanderlust would simply guarantee sustainable development and a better, fairer world. Unfortunately it's not that simple. Thank goodness for the guidance of Learning Service to help us navigate the potential and pitfalls of this brave new world.”

Daniela Kon: Founder of Social Impact Media Awards (SIMA) "Everyone who has ever intended to make a change, or is in the midst of doing it should read this book, re-trace their steps, and go out re-fueled to do it better. Learning Service is both the journal and ammunition to participate in building a better world. It's the Art of War for responsible and impactful travel.”

Kristin Lamoureux, Visiting Professor of Hospitality and Tourism, Virginia Tech University

"Learning Service fills a much needed gap in the volunteering abroad literature. The authors pool their vast experience in service learning, international volunteering and tourism, together to create an essential tool for those seeking to do go while traveling. Educators and students embarking on an international volunteer experiences or study abroad need to read this book. Understanding how volunteering helps, but can also do terrible harm is the responsibility of each and every person seeking to volunteer. The authors lead the reader through the important process of preparing yourself, reviewing your options, understanding the skills you need to be successful and then the important process of pre, during and post trip preparation and processing. Too many well-intentioned volunteer experiences either have little impact or far worse, actually cause harm to the people and place the volunteer was seeking to help. Learning Service is a must-read for those seeking to help, not harm.”

Cho Choch, Founder of Local Trail Adventures and experienced volunteer host

"As someone who has hosted many volunteers in my home country, I think Learning Service's approach is the best guideline for those who seek to volunteer responsibly abroad and aim to have a positive and long lasting impact. This book helps volunteers to ask the rights questions, contact the right projects or organizations, and prepare themselves to contribute and learn. Through growing up and living in Cambodia, I've seen lots of unskilled volunteers who come into my country with the idea of ‘'saving Cambodia'' or ‘'changing Cambodia''. I have found the language used and actions taken to be patronizing and if anything, disempowering. Often volunteers have come and not asked what's needed, but assumed what's needed. For example, wells have been built, without asking why a well, just a metre away, is broken and remains unfixed. This is why a book such as this is so needed, inspiring learning before serving."

Reed Harwood: Executive Director of Where There Be Dragons

"If you seek meaningful and impactful travel experiences, this book is a must read. The pedagogy of Learning Service is foundational to responsible travel, and has become a cornerstone principle for ‘Where There Be Dragons' cross-cultural engagement.”

Tara Winkler: Founder of Cambodian's Children's Trust, author of How Not to Start an Orphanage (By a Woman Who Did)

"The desire to help others is one of the most remarkable traits human beings possess, but the truth is, our good intentions are not enough. Well-meaning help can lead to devastating, unintended consequences. The stories within these pages taught me valuable lessons and played a vital role in changing the trajectory of my life and work in Cambodia. This book is mandatory reading for anyone interested in helping others by volunteering overseas. It should be in every school, every library and every institution of higher learning as it encourages us all to not only become responsible global citizens, but to help in the right way, with eyes wide open.”


Steve Gwenin: CEO of Global Vision International (GVI)

"Learning Service is a great tool for anyone who wishes to help others, whether that be through international development, volunteering or simply helping friends or family. It has a simple message in its core, if you wish to really help, you must learning how to do it, and how not to do it! The book is accessible, and often humorous, whilst reflecting current global community learning and best practice in a complex field ethics and full of potentially unforeseen outcomes (both good and bad). It should be essential reading for all people looking to volunteer and I will be strongly recommending every volunteer's journey starts with this book!”


Lily Lapenna: Social Impact Coach and Founder of MyBnk

"The book I wish had accompanied me years ago as I set out on my volunteering adventures. If you are volunteering abroad and want to redefine the ‘doing good' status quo, this book is for you. With vivid stories of what worked and what didn't, this book will nurture your desire to be open, to question, to learn and to ‘do good' better.”

Tom Scott: Founder of Nantucket Nectars and The Nantucket Project

"This book has spirit, passion and clarity aplenty. Learning Service encourages us to put listening first—something we all could do more of. This book is a very practical guide for anyone considering international volunteerism, but it also uses real stories from the field that everyone can (and should) learn from.”

Thavry Thon, Author of A Proper Woman

"Cambodia is one of the most targeted countries for volunteering. People who have good hearts but not much expertise in the thing they are going to do for their volunteer work could cause more harm than good. I have seen volunteers who have the aim to "save Cambodia" yet they are helping local families building vegetable gardens while they don't even know how to plant the seeds. Often times, most of the work is done by the local people, but when the volunteers leave, they put their name on the project so that they feel good about it and can show their work to everyone back home. This is not right. Learning Service could be a very powerful tool to help millions of those who are going to do such volunteers projects in emerging markets."

Eric Glustrom: CEO and Founder of Watson Institute

"Learning Service provides anyone looking to make the world a better place - whether a first time volunteer or experienced veteran in the field - a set of frameworks, stories, and a philosophy behind how we can all best serve in a complex, global context.”

Emily Braucher: CEO of ReFresh Communication

"Had I read this book before I left for the Peace Corps 20 years ago, I might have had the courage to be really honest with the question: who is really getting the most out of this experience? I thought that my youthful energy and eagerness to help would be enough to make me an effective volunteer. I soon found myself in a mess of politics, new faces, a foreign language and utter discouragement. The framework of "learning service” would have humbled my eagerness and prompted me to think more critically about the impact I was having in this new culture. I am now a professional in the field of intercultural competence due to all the mistakes and fumbles I made during my time abroad, but this book gives you the opportunity to shortcut many novice fumbles and sets you up to hit the ground running. The book emphasizes something that took me years to learn: when we want to help others, we need to start by understanding ourselves. The stories will guide you away from classic volunteerism traps and teach you how to navigate this massive industry with true intelligence. It is a must for anyone who is looking to be an effective volunteer and looking to have a profound international experience they can feel proud of.”

Lindsay Morris: Director of The Nantucket Project Academy

"Part thought-provoking expose, part how-to guide, Learning Service is a timely resource for prospective volunteers and anyone interested in international development. As the problem of misguided and damaging social volunteerism continues to worsen, this book has the power to turn volunteers into learners and developing communities into teachers.”


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

"Learning Service should be required reading for anyone looking to volunteer abroad. The stories in this book illustrate the obstacles and pitfalls that everyone will face at one time or another, and is chock full of lessons from experienced volunteers on how to avoid them. If you are going to invest your time and resources in volunteering, you need to read this book.”

Claire Diaz-Ortiz: Author of 8 books including Twitter for Good

"This is the book I wish I'd had before my first trip abroad. It's an essential guide for helping navigate the complex learning that comes with international travel and the self-reflection that is necessary to understand hidden power dynamics. Thank you for this resource!”

Beathe Øgård: President of SAIH and Radi-Aid

"Volunteering programs are expanding rapidly. Before we even decide to go, we should start by questioning our intentions: Why volunteer abroad? Is it for ourselves or do we really want to make a difference? I would definitely check out this book before traveling. It's a very concrete, critical and useful guide to how we can do it better. Even though we are equipped with good intentions and harm is not intended, many volunteers and travelers end up playing the role of the white savior and reinforce stereotypes about poverty. When you travel to work as a volunteer you have a chance to provide nuanced information, talk about the complexities and tell something different than the one-sided story about poverty and pity. Put this book in your bag, learn from the practical advice, and you'll be on the right track!”

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