Approaching Voluntourism as a Moderate
Here are some things to consider:
1. Not all Voluntourist opportunities are all together legitimate.
As we talked about in our previous posts on this issue, it is very important to thoroughly research the organization you are traveling with. Check in to everything and then re-check. If you want to be sure that what you are doing is helping (and we know you do!) then take the time to scan for any fraudulent or unethical practices.
2. A little good is still good.
I’ve run across many bloggers and articles bashing voluntourism and microvolunteering as being half-hearted approaches to volunteering. Here’s my thought: some good is better than no good. I want to clarify that I’m not adhering to the Hollywood car-chase crime fighting approach (destroy as many cars/as much property as need be to catch the “bad guys”), I’m just appealing to logic. Doing good is still doing good–no matter how small the effect. Many of us go on vacation to rest and relax and don’t give a second thought to how we can help out in our temporary home-away-from home. It may only be a short-term, simple act or service, but it can still do good.
3. Voluntourism is a growing industry.
Though it may be controversial, it seems voluntourism is here to stay. There are literally thousands of options for tourists looking to volunteer on their vacation. In 2010, one-quater of the queried Travelers in the Travel Industry Association’s survey said they were interested in taking a volunteer or service-based vacation. The largest percentages of those people were in the 35-54 year-old range. When the The VolunTourist Newsletter launched in March 2005, they had only 30 subscribers in 4 countries. Today that number exceeds 5,000 from more than 100 countries. It’s definitely growing.
4. When it comes to motives, only God knows.
This should be obvious, but I think it’s often overlooked. It’s so easy to sit back and accuse people of laziness or self-righteousness. Maybe a voluntourist is only “volunteering” to make themselves feel good. I can’t possibly know that–No one can. I can assume the worst or assume the best of someone, but it will not change anything.
5. My challenge: Instead of being critical, be creative!
When I look around online, I always have to remember it’s easy to criticize. What’s difficult (and way more beneficial) is to think critically for constructive ways to improve an idea or industry. You may love, hate, or feel indifferent to voluntourism. No matter how you feel, you can still imagine and create ways to make it as effective, ethical, and efficient as it can be. As one blogger wrote, “One way, then, to make voluntourism more responsible, is to incorporate local community members not just into the programming, but into positions of executive leadership and ownership as soon as possible.”