Ethical Volunteering - The STC way

STC Expeditions has clear views on volunteer projects that provide longevity of positive impact for local communities. Here we try and explain our reasoning and the lasting impression it can make on a young traveller.

At STC Expeditions we believe that, besides extraordinary landscapes and adrenaline-pumping activities, it’s the local people students meet while travelling that make a school trip memorable and enriching. Learning first hand about different lifestyles, different challenges, different faiths and different priorities can open minds and lend a new perspective on the world. Meeting children, especially those of a similar age, and understanding their day-to-day lives and long-term ambitions can be especially impactful. This exposure to less-privileged children’s lives, coupled with the hope of helping to improve their futures, is why volunteering in orphanages and children’s centres has become such a popular activity on school expeditions.


However, in recent years there’s been a sea change about the ethics of volunteering with children and it’s a subject we feel passionately about. With any volunteering project, our first priority is to bring tangible benefit with lasting impact to the host community. We want to help in real, constructive ways. But we know that we haven’t got the knowledge, power or tools to magically answer what may be a very complex set of needs. So we listen to communities and our on-the-ground leaders and work with them to set up projects that bring benefit to the students we travel with, and even greater benefit to the communities they visit.


There are a few key reasons why STC Expeditions doesn’t undertake volunteering projects that directly focus on children. Firstly, we know we don’t have the expertise necessary to constructively influence their education, healthcare or psychological development. Secondly, it can be emotionally devastating for these vulnerable children to build attachments with a constantly churning stream of visitors who offer love then take it away. Over and over again. Thirdly, and very sadly, not all orphanages in developing nations are as altruistic as they should be. Some exploit well-meaning visitors for financial gain but don’t reinvest it in improving the lot of their charges. Many of the kids who end up in orphanages have at least one living parent, who’s been persuaded their children will be better off in care.


So where does that leave us? Well, in a very positive place, actually. There are plenty of ways our student travellers can contribute through volunteering, and plenty of opportunities for meeting and learning from local children. We take care to be sure this interaction offers developmental opportunity to both sides and doesn’t interfere with the routines or education of host children. Volunteering on an STC trip could involve anything from cleaning up rivers to improving drinking water, building fences to protect crops or documenting plant, insect and animal species. Infrastructure is critical to helping communities thrive, so we take direction from local agencies that can identify, in cooperation with villagers, where help would be appreciated and beneficial. We always work with local experts (which provides employment and income) and never expect our students to undertake tasks they’re not qualified for. It’s a many-hands-make-light-work philosophy.


Our sincere hope is that lending our hands will lead to economic growth, which in turn will mean fewer families are so poor they feel compelled to hand their children over to orphanages. We’re proud that the STC is the first UK school-travel operator to become ChildSafe certified. And we’re proud to work alongside ChildSafe in promoting ethical and constructive volunteering opportunities that have community development at their core.


Your school may have links and long-standing relationships with orphanages in developing countries. We don’t suggest you sever those ties and turn your backs on those children. But we, along with ChildSafe, would love to work together with you in developing these projects so they offer grassroots benefits that will help communities, and children, flourish.


Click here to learn more about the work and philosophy of ChildSafe, or here for more information on volunteering projects from the STC.