Is voluntourism efficient? – DP

Who do you think is winning the most from this experience

Don´t you have friends that have travelled for a short period of time to developing countries to spend some time with poor communities? Or have you seen travel agency´s plans that offer mixed luxury hotels or honeymoons with volunteering? Usually volunteers are seen as big-hearted people that sacrifice a few weeks of their lives in order give something back to society. Is it as good as it sounds? I have always asked myself what are the real effects of volunteer tourism and if it is really effective.

Voluntourism is a term that refers to people that combine travel and volunteering. This is a growing industry, that by 2008 was estimated to move about 1.6 million people and from US$1.7 billion to US$2.6 billion (Tourism Research and Marketing). Volunteers are generally from developed countries and 90% of it is done in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Can it be considered a new way of colonialism where powerful are on top of poor?

By this stage of our development perspectives course it is clear that development is a long-term process and not the sum of short-term projects. As volunteer tourism occurs during a short period of time, it is difficult to see long-term results. In a few weeks volunteers don´t even get to know real local needs. Since volunteer tourism will continue to happen, organizations that coordinate it, together with local governments are in charge of establishing long-term programs and goals. They should assure that every single volunteer that goes has the skills to contribute to achieve development objectives. In other words, volunteer tourism should have planning, a structured program and a continuous follow up. Sadly this is not how it works.

In general, volunteers are unskilled people that don´t know much about the situation of the communities or about development. “Unfortunately, they are led by their hearts and not their heads and unknowingly support environments that may be abusive to children,” said Mark Turgesen, international co-ordinator of ChildSafe Network. These people usually can afford to pay for this experience, which is what makes them attractive. Then it might be worth to ask if it would be better to have a good donation system instead of having lots of people doing unnecessary jobs. In my opinion it would definitely better to have quality instead of quantity: more prepared people, even professionals that can give an added value to the community. If people that can pay are the ones who are going to be travelling, then they must have a comprehensive training period that will let them understand the situation and the impact of their job.

In order to analyze the effectiveness of volunteer tourism it is fundamental to know how communities perceive it. “Insiders call them guilt trips. All those teenagers heading off on gap years, fired up with enthusiasm. And those new retirees determined to spend their downtime spreading a little happiness.” (Ian Birrell, The Observer). What happens at the end is that volunteers go back home fully satisfied and leave children and communities feeling abandoned because they create emotional links. Volunteers must assure a continuous relationship with the community after they finish their trip. According to the South Africa-based Human Sciences Research Council, short-term voluntourism can also undermine local workers by occupying their possible jobs, which can cause resentment, contribute to the poverty situation and make programs be a complete failure. As long as communities don´t value this voluntarism, they are not going to get involved and thus positive results will become impossible to achieve.

Perhaps it would be better to analyze if it is necessary to go abroad on order to help populations in need. It is better to question ourselves if in our own countries we can help and look up for programs that international NGO´s have that might need voluntary work. By taking advantage of academic skills of possible volunteers, this can generate more added value than just spending some time with the communities.



Volunteer tourism should not be only a self-fulfilment action that helps to improve your CV. In order to have results it must be prepared, coordinated and measured. Managing voluntourism is time and effort consuming. Therefore, governments and agencies must balance the positive and negative results of this kind of aid and define standards for people who volunteer and how they are going to do their job. Methods to get communities involved should be established in order to achieve long-term goals and real social changes.

Sources
Carlos M. Palacios Volunteer tourism, development and education in a postcolonial world: conceiving global connections beyond aid, Journal of Sustainable Tourism,Volume 18, Issue 7, 2010 pages: 861-878 (If you can’t get hold of this, there is a good extract from it on: http://www.voluntourism.org/news-studyandresearch64.htm

Birrell, Ain. Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do. TheObserver, Sunday 14 November 2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/14/orphans-cambodia-aids-holidays-madonna

TourismforAid&Development. http://www.aidworkers.net/?q=node/1563

TheDarkSide of VolunteerTourism http://www.utne.com/Politics/The-Dark-Side-of-Volunteer-Tourism-Voluntourism.aspx

Volunteertourism: A global analysis. TourismReasearch and Marketing. Pg 83. January 2008. ISBN: 978-90-75775-34-1
http://www.atlaswebshop.org/epages/61492534.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/61492534/Products/ATL_00073.


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