Volunteer tourism blends adventure with philanthropy. Win, Win.
Voluntourism is motivated by the commendable desire to contribute to humanitarian efforts, usually in third world countries.
The voluntourists is an eclectic traveller who likes to explore and learn and give. Some are boomers with spare time and money. They have experience and skills to donate.
Students on a gap year or summer break also ‘voluntour‘ because they want to understand and improve the world.
Does volunteering abroad really help?
Altruistic volunteers are devastated to find that their compassion can often cause more harm than good. Not all of the tour operators are guided by ethics. There is growing evidence suggesting some companies are exploiting both the volunteers and the unfortunate recipients.
$500 billion tourism industry.
Voluntourism is a small part of this industry. Greed and religious agendas drive some operators, who provide little or no real value to those people who are already suffering or at risk.
Volunteers may be taking real jobs away from the locals who are desperate to work and earn. ‘Charity’ money is simply wasted on improving facilities for the western volunteers, when the money could be better spent on the community in need.
Orphans aren’t all orphans.
Sadly, in many Asian orphanages, two out of three children are not orphans (i.e without parents) but abandoned. Parents surrender their children to the orphanage, hoping that the child will be clothed, fed and educated by the volunteer organisations. It is a desperate form of trafficking in children. The child is the commodity. Around 90% of the orphanages in Nepal are located in the major tourist areas, to be a more attractive option for foreign volunteers.
These children are traumatised by their separation. They are seeking security and love and need to attach themselves to a caring human (volunteer). The volunteers, while well meaning, are there only temporarily. When the ‘holiday’ is over, the child is abandoned yet again. This devastating cycle repeats with each new round of volunteers.
Don’t be naive, be informed.
Choose an ethical company. Ask your adventure tour operator questions that will save any further suffering.
- How are profits shared?
Beware of expensive tours, where profits go to the organisers, not the local people.
- How are the projects managed?
Is the work appropriate to the volunteers skills? Is there training? Is there reliable contacts on site?
- How do the recipients benefit?
Some organisations call themselves ‘enlightened charities’ who attach religious conditions to the ‘giving’.
You can find more answers to other important ethical questions in the book The Ethical Travel Guide: Your Passport to Exciting Alternative Holidays
The 3 best volunteer trips.
Ethical volunteers choose these organisations to protect our Oceans, our land and food and our children.
Selection criteria; the organisation
- respects the dignity of the recipients as paramount.
- is transparent in structure and finance.
- brings measurable and sustainable contributions to the cause.
- has a long term commitment to the local community.
- employs local staff and uses local commodities.
- provides a rewarding and meaningful experience to the volunteers.
1 Global Volunteer (globalvolunteer.org)
Head Office St Paul, Minnesota. USA
Regions to volunteer; Americas, Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe.
Focus; Teach Conversational English
“In many countries knowing English is a passport out of poverty through employment.”
Volunteers also help to implement UNICEF’s “Go Girl “Campaign and the World Food Programme’s program encouraging families to release their daughters from household responsibilities to attend school.
2 Blue Ventures (blueventures.org)
Head office London. UK.
Regions to volunteer; Belize and Madagascar.
Focus; Marine conservation.
“Save our Coral Reefs. Volunteers complete intensive 2 week science training and dive training before participating in an expedition of underwater surveys. They also play a vital role in diversifying income opportunities away from fishing and towards local homestays.”
3. World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms WWOOF
Head Office Sydney, Australia.
Regions to Volunteer; 60 + countries across five continents.
Focus; Sustainable agriculture.
WWOOF is a worldwide movement linking volunteers with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange, thereby helping to building a sustainable global community.
Working to protect our future generations, the farm lands and oceans of our world is noble.
Take the opportunity to become a ‘true world citizen’ by voluntouring and remember to pack your ethics.
Share this article with those who can benefit. Let me know how you feel about voluntourism. Have you been wwoofing? Was your own experience positive?
Leave a comment below, because there are many others who want to hear your view.
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