Good Intentions Are Not Enough has some excellent advice regarding volunteering overseas.

The main points are:

1. Meaningful volunteering takes a lot of time.

2. Work with local people, don’t replace them.  e.g. If you want to go to a developing country and help them build houses you should be asking yourself – Am I more skilled at doing this task than a local person and is this even something the local people want?

3. Examine your motivations (I disagree with most of the stuff here).

4. Manage your expectations (Highly agree).

Most development work tries to emphasise the issues of “sustainability”, which are the core to the points raised above. The problem is that it’s easier said than done.