Author Topic: Voluntourism: More tourist than volunteer  (Read 6063 times)

thearena

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Voluntourism: More tourist than volunteer
« on: Aug 03, 07, 05:07 AM »
Voluntourism: More tourist than volunteer
Straits Times July 28, 2007

JUST back from vacation, a story in Tuesday's paper caught my eye. A growing number of people from Singapore, it seems, have been signing up to spend their hard-earned holiday time doing tough work for charities in difficult places. If you haven't heard, this new niche in vacation travel is called 'voluntourism'.

Yet, press-ganged during my holiday into 'house projects' digging dirt, hauling rocks and stacking logs for my father-in-law in Vermont's rural America, the idea of paying for the privilege of working for no pay stumps me. Yes, yes, it's all for a good cause, of course. Still, I can't help feeling suspicious.

The pitch is simple. Instead of two weeks sipping wine somewhere comfortable, somewhere scenic, put your money to better use and volunteer your labour to a Third World charity or an aid agency. The idea oozes with virtue. And when something sounds so good, I get bothered. For one thing, I have to wonder what real value volunteer tourists offer their hosts.

The cynic in me suspects that these short-timers take home more from their slumming in the Third World than leave behind for the underprivileged they are supposed to help. There are the photographs with those unfortunate enough to have been born in the wrong place. There is the cleansing of developed-world middle-class guilt. There might even be the opportunity to use the experience on a college application or job resume.

On the other side, I imagine, the charities and aid agencies must play host to a revolving number of people who never stay long enough to make any difference - and who might even complicate matters because of their lack of experience.

If you're new to rural-anywhere, village life in Cambodia or Malawi or Mongolia is going to take a take a lot of getting used to. So the charities have to put up with volunteers being less than a hundred per cent at first. Then, they have to get the volunteers up to speed for the work they've signed up for.

But hey, two weeks go by pretty fast. In no time at all, then, the volunteers are saying their goodbyes - we'll be thinking of you and we'll always remember this.

So as soon as they've arrived to do good for the wretched of the earth, the tourists are just as quickly out of there. The poor remain, on the other hand, stuck in their patch of dirt. Symmetry is restored; nothing changes. Except for the volunteers who can count on dining out on their experience.

I'm no handyman, but I've spent enough time with my father-in-law to know a thing or two about hammers and saws. Enough anyway to know that it's a pretty steep curve learning all the bits you need to build a house, school, toilet, or whatever it is voluntourists do. So I have to wonder how much use they are, especially people more likely to call in the locksmith for the broken door than to try to fix it themselves.

Okay, maybe volunteers do less challenging jobs, like painting. Hey, anyone can paint, right? But then, why do you need someone from Singapore or New York to, say, go paint a clinic in Nicaragua?

What's particularly galling about voluntourism is the vanity that people from developed countries naturally have something to teach the poor. There's a smug superiority, lurking in the back, wrapped up in the notion that anyone from a rich nation willing to stump up the cash can teach the underprivileged of the Third World how to live their lives.

Certainly, you can't fault the charities for being complicit in volunteer tourism. The exposure they get can help with raising funds in the future. Perhaps they're willing to put up with the interruption in their work and the hassle for this. But if you care enough for a cause or charity, why not just give your money outright instead of making the charity put up with you?

I reckon charities and aid agencies could make better use of the cash price of a volunteering holiday than the labour they get out of a short-timer. They have many needs that have to be paid for. And money is always in short supply.

Volunteer tourists here can pay up to $3,000 for a two-week trip, says the newspaper report I read. Now, imagine how many permanent local workers an aid agency in Cambodia can hire with that. Then, think about the money ponied up by five or 10 voluntourists.

Of course, many charities and aid agencies could badly use even short-time help from people with real skills - like doctors, nurses and mechanics - who come to work on crucial projects. But these volunteers aren't recruited at a travel agency.

Just as useful are the volunteers who are there for the long haul. And that's to mention nothing of workers who have made a professional commitment towards aiding those who need help. Again, none of them signed up at a travel agency.

Neither would I fault people who go abroad after working at home with the same charities or aid agencies. In this case, the trips are part of a long-standing commitment. They frame, put into context, the charitable work these volunteers do at home, allowing them to better understand conditions. They learn how much money they might need to raise at home for projects, what materials they might collect and ship over.

The thing is to be useful. So if you want to help, there are prudent and effective ways to go about it. But importantly, don't get in the way.

On Wednesday, police in Afghanistan found the bullet-riddled body of one of the 23 South Koreans taken hostage last week. The Koreans were kidnapped by the Taleban outside Kabul while on a 10-day trip to teach English and help in a hospital, unwittingly adding to the security challenges and difficulties faced by the Afghan government. The hostage takers have demanded the release of a number of their fighters in exchange for the Koreans' freedom.

Most short-timers are unlikely to end up in a situation even remotely like this. But it's a grim reminder to leave aid work in difficult places to the professionals and the experienced.

Send them your money if you care. Don't get in their way.

tionkwa@sph.com.sg

GIVING OR RECEIVING?

The cynic in me suspects that these short-timers take home more from their slumming in the Third World than leave behind for the under-privileged they are supposed to help.

Offline aurora

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Re: Voluntourism: More tourist than volunteer
« Reply #1 on: Aug 03, 07, 02:55 PM »
Food for thought indeed. I have somewhat the same feelings as you, especially ever since someone told me before that the kind of money that goes into each Youth Expedition Project aka YEP that used to be under the Singapore International Foundation aka SIF (now it's being handled totally by NYC) could be put to much better use by giving them to the local communities in the developing countries that these local guys visit to do community work. It's actually to develop the youths of Singapore that the organisations have in mind more, and u cannot blame them. But I have to mention that not all is lost, for I know of many NGOs that were formed after these groups came back from their projects and right now are still active in the local volunteer scene. Most of the participants were school-going youths when they went for these projects, as the age limit is 25. Hence, the idea stuck with them that they have something to give back to the society, and this was the intention of SIF in the beginning as this would inspire the youths to contribute to the Singapore society.

When I mentioned not all is lost, it's also because I was one of the recipients before and I went to Cambodia. It kind of changed my life ever since then, and this is exactly the kind of impact upon one's life when the time is right.
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Offline gynger

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Re: Voluntourism: More tourist than volunteer
« Reply #2 on: Aug 07, 07, 03:33 AM »
that's a good one. maybe you should take a look at local volunteering scenes, more disturbing, how Singaporeans can happily come and go, whine when they're told to clean windows. see here, a summarised report from NVPC, year 2006 if i'm not wrong:

The following points are extracted from the report:

-In a troubling statistic, the NVPC survey last year revealed that between 2002 and 2004, the total number of volunteers remained constant, but the turnover increased by about 5 per cent between 2002 and 2004.
-Among former volunteers aged 15 to 34, about 40 per cent of them upped and left their welfare groups within six months, citing 'no time' and 'burn-out' as reasons.
-Even those who hung on were not exactly happy campers. About 11 per cent of the current crop of volunteers felt their work was not appreciated . Another 12 per cent felt things could be better organised.
-Some 9 per cent felt inadequately trained, while another 9 per cent were bored stiff and had lost interest.

Base on the findings, 81 per cent of volunteers are not satisfied and this may become true for us if we do nothing to prevent this from happening.
 
 >:( sometimes I feel so damn angry!

Offline TrainTraveller

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Re: Voluntourism: More tourist than volunteer
« Reply #3 on: Feb 08, 16, 09:57 AM »
Food for thought indeed. I have somewhat the same feelings as you, especially ever since someone told me before that the kind of money that goes into each Youth Expedition Project aka YEP that used to be under the Singapore International Foundation aka SIF (now it's being handled totally by NYC) could be put to much better use by giving them to the local communities in the developing countries that these local guys visit to do community work. It's actually to develop the youths of Singapore that the organisations have in mind more, and u cannot blame them. But I have to mention that not all is lost, for I know of many NGOs that were formed after these groups came back from their projects and right now are still active in the local volunteer scene. Most of the participants were school-going youths when they went for these projects, as the age limit is 25. Hence, the idea stuck with them that they have something to give back to the society, and this was the intention of SIF in the beginning as this would inspire the youths to contribute to the Singapore society.

When I mentioned not all is lost, it's also because I was one of the recipients before the bathmate https://peblueprint.com/bathmate-review and I went to Cambodia. It kind of changed my life ever since then, and this is exactly the kind of impact upon one's life when the time is right.

This is a shame, so you're saying that volunteers that only stay a short while aren't really helping much and are actually taking more than they're giving?

I wonder what could be done to change this. I think a lot of volunteers do it just so they have something cool to put down on their cv for jobs in the future.
« Last Edit: May 16, 16, 04:03 PM by TrainTraveller »