Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

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Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby planeterra » Wed Jun 17, 2009 5:36 pm

Planeterra Director Richard Edwards Challenges Travellers to think about this hot travel trend.

Voluntourism - it’s been a hot item in articles, tweets and blogs lately. We define it as travel experiences that provide the opportunity to contribute to local community projects and development initiatives with some time off to visit the highlights of that particular destination or country.

This kind of travel creates opportunities for greater interaction with local communities, so it’s essential that we consider the impacts these trips can have to ensure there are benefits for local people and their environments.

Our friends in the media need to be as concerned as we are because the health and welfare of communities and cultures can be at risk when purposes and good intentions go awry.

Planeterra Foundation, http://www.planeterra.org/ the global non-profit dedicated to sustainable community development through travel, challenges you to look closely at the following questions and insofar as possible, share our concerns – which we are sure you will be yours as well – with your audiences.

• When is my need to “do good” potentially a selfish act on my part?
• Am I helping or hindering by taking time and resources away from the community and project managers just so I have a “feel good” project to work on?
• Are valuable time, effort and resources being wasted and misappropriated just to prepare for and accommodate a voluntourist?
• Can I really make a contribution in a lasting, significant way in the short time I’m there?
• What is the optimum duration for a meaningful voluntourism stay?
• Is the project just a “front” for fundraising or attempt to generate exposure, creating contrived situations for my benefit and not really the benefit of the community?

Here’s how we at Planeterra think the growing voluntourism industry needs to address these concerns:

• Programs must be set up to engage the voluntourist in task-specific scenarios so people can see the tangible results of their contributions.
• Voluntourism programs are ideally no shorter than five days and optimally 14 days.
• It’s vital to have a designated tour leader or guide who helps facilitate20the volunteer experience so that project staff aren’t taken away from running their regular programs.
• Designated projects are ongoing and sustainable; they are not simply there just to ‘entertain’ travelers. This being said, many of the activities would be taking place without travelers present, but it is because of the voluntourists that these tasks are able to be completed.
• It’s important for voluntourists to have realistic expectations; while they won’t change the world by volunteering for a few days, they will open themselves up to learn more about a local community that can be shared with others when returning home.
• There’s an overall need in the voluntourism travel sector to shift the focus toward sustainability. This enables projects to be taken over eventually by a community, thus minimizing dependence on outside help.
• Everyone needs to recognize that the end game is total community control and quite possibly the disappearance and solution of issues and conditions that brought the original need for the project – and voluntourists -- in the first place.

Here at Planeterra, where there is a need, we recognize it, and we act quickly to meet it. Whatever the voluntour project Planeterra has the insight, agility and technical and financial wherewithal to successfully see it through. Our goal is to empower local people and communities to strengthen their well being while promoting long-term, environmentally responsible growth.

Planeterra was founded in 2003 by G.A.P Adventures. Edwards is also a member of G.A.P’s executive management team, where he helps oversee the company’s rapid growth. Planeterra evolved out of a long history of travelers committed to finding ways to give back to the people and places they visit. Planeterra selects the projects and works with G.A.P Adventures to arrange voluntour travel programs, including for the six-million-person Student Travel Association (STA). For information on Planeterra’s year-round voluntour programs please go to http://www.planeterra.org or call 416-260-0999.
Planeterra is the non-profit organization founded by Gap Adventures in 2003. Planeterra supports and develops community projects worldwide that travellers can visit on Voluntours and other Gap Adventures. Visit http://www.planeterra.org
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby TravelFun » Wed Jun 17, 2009 6:07 pm

planeterra wrote:• Everyone needs to recognize that the end game is total community control and quite possibly the disappearance and solution of issues and conditions that brought the original need for the project – and voluntourists -- in the first place.


This to me should always be the main goal and not about exploiting the situation and the people. Alot of so called 'voluntour' companies overcharge tourists who think they're adding value and yet financially not much of it goes into the local community. The community should not be depending on these companies/tourists.

We should help and where possible resolve issues and then let the locals take control and take pride in moving their community forward.

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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby jimshu » Wed Jun 17, 2009 6:35 pm

• When is my need to “do good” potentially a selfish act on my part?

Possibly every time.But then the act of travelling is inherently a 'selfish ' act isn't it?

• Am I helping or hindering by taking time and resources away from the community and project managers just so I have a “feel good” project to work on?

That would depend on the aims/objectives and management of the project .Those projects that are an extension of existing community based programs may operate voluntour projects to enhance that which is already in place.The voluntour should be able to contribute skills to the locals.E.g. if you're going into paint an orphanage, hopefully you will be showing a local how to prepare and paint so when you leave, the work can be carried on by them.
• Are valuable time, effort and resources being wasted and misappropriated just to prepare for and accommodate a voluntourist?
[/quote.
Similar answer.Depends on how well the operation is managed and it's aims and objectives.

• Can I really make a contribution in a lasting, significant way in the short time I’m there?
Individually , probably not.But the combined legacy of many voluntourists will make a lasting improvement....hopefully.
• Is the project just a “front” for fundraising or attempt to generate exposure, creating contrived situations for my benefit and not really the benefit of the community?
Quite possibly the case for some operations.But that's no reason to denigrate the whole idea of voluntourism.In every field of human commerce, there are the rogues, the frauds, the rip off operators.So it is no diferent with volunteer projects.
Up to the voluntourist to do their homework and research diligently and sift out the genuine from the bogus projects.
I agree with the aims of how Planeterra have outlined how they address issues around voluntourism.

I would also add that what the voluntourist gains from involvement in genuine projects should not be discounted.I learnt more about Namibia and it's people working on a voluntour project in Namibia than being a tourist on a GAP tour.That close contact with locals gave us more time to chat about the people , their history and the issues they face.

Voluntourism.....go for it.But for all those thinking about it, do your homework,seek out the genuine projects.I'm sure you'll find it worthwhile, and who cares if it's 'selfish'.?
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby jimshu » Wed Jun 17, 2009 6:38 pm

Well errr ummm mucked up the quote boxes on that but you can read it still hopefully.
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby jimshu » Thu Jun 18, 2009 1:19 am

Just some further observations...
Volunteer projects will form the basis around which we will build our travel plans for the next few years travel.But we will concentrate on wildlife conservation projects.Not to say that a Romanian project in psychiatrically disturbed children is not under consideration, should it ever get up and going....

But Id like to see others contribute to this discussion topic.What may be missing so far is other perspectives.
I mean, what does the potential voluntourist seek , or feel they can contribute to a volunteer project?
What do you feel is your ideal volunteer project?
And finally-
What does Planeterra view as an ideal voluntourist ?
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby planeterra » Tue Jun 23, 2009 2:16 pm

Yes - potential voluntourists we want to hear from you!

To answer your question Jimshu, the folks at Planeterra discussed what an "ideal" voluntourist would be and here's what we came up with:

- Have an open mind and enthusiasm for different cultures as well as politeness, courtesy and a genuine interest in helping out for the greater good
- Willing to take initiative and to help out where it's needed
- Understand that some tours are less about accomplishing a specific task and more about sharing in a valuable cross-cultural experience
- No special skills are needed, just the desire to help!

Any other ideas anyone?
Planeterra is the non-profit organization founded by Gap Adventures in 2003. Planeterra supports and develops community projects worldwide that travellers can visit on Voluntours and other Gap Adventures. Visit http://www.planeterra.org
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby jimshu » Tue Jun 23, 2009 4:19 pm

Ohhhh ...someone's reading this!
I'd add this.
Someone wanting to place themselves in a unique,different and challenging situation,to develop their own character and self confidence.

Many voluntourists, particularly the younger person, grow from the experience.On my volunteer experience, I watched several young people grow in confidence , and in how they interacted with their co- volunteers, and locals , as the time progressed.

So what does the intending volunteer expect from their involvement?
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby planeterra » Thu Jun 25, 2009 4:54 pm

Yes, definitely good points Jimshu. When I was doing research in Costa Rica I met some people on a voluntour and they were definitely gaining a lot in personal development, having life-changing experiences. A year later, this May, I saw a comment on one of the girls' facebook pages saying "one year ago today my life changed forever." It's pretty amazing.

Another Planeterra staff member adds to the list - it's good to have some knowledge of the local language to help with the projects and enrich the experience. That said, it's not a requirement to actually speak the language fluently or anything, but taking an interest in it and learning some words before you go and learning while you're there really make a difference and help you connect to the people, making it even more special and memorable.
Planeterra is the non-profit organization founded by Gap Adventures in 2003. Planeterra supports and develops community projects worldwide that travellers can visit on Voluntours and other Gap Adventures. Visit http://www.planeterra.org
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby jimshu » Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:09 pm

I met some people on a voluntour and they were definitely gaining a lot in personal development, having life-changing experience

I commented in this thread how that aspect of voluntourism could perhaps be developed-
viewtopic.php?f=32&t=43&start=0

And although voluntourism has been described as a trend, it could, with the right stewardship become more than a trend, but a basic of travel style options in the future.
For instance, I have been keeping track of people on my EHRA project and how their lives are going since then.Easy with Facebook.Probably only reason I am on there.....
But many of those have gone on to do other volunteer projects.Now that has been common across the age groups.1 has just said they're going off to teach English in South America, unpaid.Another has been on a project in Ecuador.Another woman in her 60's has spent 6 months travelling around volunteer projects, wildlife and orphanages/schools in southern Africa.2 others have done multiple wildlife projects.
So once you do a project, it seems the benefits to the voluntourist are such that they are compelled to want to do more.
Isn't that neat?Kinda cool I think that so many people want to give of their time and skills.
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby ballu » Thu Jun 25, 2009 7:10 pm

I'm not sure anybody would pay money to go somewhere, live in basic accomodations and work for free if they didn't think they'd get something out of it.

There are differing degrees of what that "something" would be...experience that would look good on a resume or a college entrance application, or just a general unforgetable life experience.

I was kind of a voluntourist, I guess mine was more of a 4 week internship...so I do have it on my resume. My experience provided a job for 2 local people, and didn't take a job away from any local person. Other than that, everything else I added to the community would not have been significant, but spending my money in Kampala would have helped the guy at the corner shop, the shared taxi drivers, the boda-boda drivers, the baby who ended up with the mosquito net I brought that was too small for me, the orphanage my roommate was volunteering at where I donated money and supplies etc.

I guess it was more of a sustainable work placement that a voluntourist situation...but I did get an unforgetable life experience out of it. And one day I would like to do something that I consider to be "more significant", whether at a community build, an orphanage or a health centre.
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Re: Voluntourism: What does it mean to you?

Postby jimshu » Thu Jun 25, 2009 8:14 pm

That may very well happen Ballu.....

"one year ago today my life changed forever."


That speaks volumes for voluntourism.
Should be in huge letters up in the office there for all to see.

I wonder if you could measure the effect on the King Alfred kids after being dropped at that school in the middle of the Namib Desert ????
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