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Voluntourism – Pros, Cons, and Possibilities

Submitted on 15 July 2008 by R. Hart
There are many good and worthy volunteer organizations doing community work abroad, but DO NOT BE NAIVE.  Before you sign on (and/or get on the plane!), check out the background of the organization seeking your labor.  For instance, some English language programs are fronts for or directly linked to the CIA (volunteers unwittingly provide valuable information about activities and 'major players' in communities where they work), especially in the poorest nations and/or those with very repressive governments.

Also, it is better to work with an organization that takes its leadership and direction from the grassroots/the communities directly affected, instead of going in with their own ideas about what is needed.

Do your homework and don't be afraid to ask the important questions.  Don't ever have to say, "I didn't know."

Submitted on 14 December 2007 by Jeremy Stafford, Co-owner, Voluntours, Midrand, Gauteng South Africa
Voluntourism is the fastest growing tourism market globally as well  as in South Africa. Unfortunately some organisations exploit the very communities they are supposed to serve and over-promise to their volunteers. We at Voluntours launched our "Code of Good Practice: Volunteering in South Africa" at WTM in London on 14 November 2007 in conjunction with World Responsible Travel Day as a response to these concerns. We use a project-based approach to match our volunteers' skills to community needs. Applicants are not automatically guaranteed a placement on the project. See our website www.voluntours.co.za for our Code of Good Practice.

Submitted on 14 December 2007 by Joyce Major, Seattle, Washington, USA
I teach classes here in Seattle on Inexpensive Volunteer Travel and find there are many low cost choices from wildlife to conservation from orphanages to well, almost anything. I took a year and volunteered around the world. I provide more information on my site: www.smilingattheworld.com

Submitted on 13 October 2007 by Maureen Wright-Evans, CEO, Summer Isle Travel, Kingston, Jamaica W. I.
Jamaica is an exotic island known for sand and sea but it is an ideal country for volunteer holidays as we have 'deep pockets' of poverty. I have always had deep compassion for the poor, so recently I came up with the idea of volunteering and and having a holiday. My most suprising moment was going on the internet and finding lots of volunteer hoildays. I have developed packages for this travel and want to promote them so people will know of this opportunity in Jamaica. info@summerisle.com.jm

Submitted on 5 April 2007 by Jayne Cravens, United Nations, Kabul, Afghanistan
This topic comes up frequently on the Thorn Tree, the message board for Lonely Planet Readers, as well as places like www.omidyar.net. You might want to visit and see what people are saying, for further insights on this subject. Most of the contributors have no idea of how expensive these programs are and, therefore, complain constantly at the fees.

Submitted on 15 February 2007 by David Warshaw, Principal, Vistas Volunteer Management Systems, Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, USA
Re Voluntourism... Those looking for well-planned and meaningful vacation service opportunities can also look to Elderhostel (www.elderhostel.org), primarily for people over 55. Look at their list of opportunities under "Service Learning" and you will see about 50 trips that include volunteer activity...from coral reef research in Belize to teaching English in rural Hungary.

Submitted on 13 February 2007 by H. Roberts, President, PLNJ Inc.,
Keyport, New Jersey USA

Voluntourism offers the individual a working vacation against the backdrop of globally rich landscapes. But, "work" is the operative word. Organizations that attract, train and provide continuing communication to volunteers benefit most. Organizations with any reluctance to establish a voluntour program should approach charities familiar with project development and adapt accordingly. Volunteers hesitant to investigate voluntour opportunity may find group outings an inspiring place to begin. Sign up prepared!

This growing area of volunteerism most definately needs further definition for VRM's, organizations and the tourism industry to be fully successful and working together mission focused.

The GREAT news is that global volunteerism has a place in every society and makes the world we live in a very approachable, educating place!

Submitted on 9 February 2007 by Mary Jo Richardson, Consultant, Education Services, Shoreview, Minnnesota, USA
The nonprofit organization, Global Volunteers, which headquarters in Minnesota, has been training and sending volunteers to more than twenty countries for 25 years. What I really liked about the experience was the fact that we only serve in areas where the people, who live in the countries where we serve, decide what needs to be done and work along side of us. The training is well done and the experience is a win-win situation. I would encourage anyone interested to contact Global Volunteers and sign up for a wonderful voluntourism experience.

Submitted on 8 February 2007 by Pierre van den Berg, ex-Cape Nature Conservation, South Africa, Heidelberg (W.Cape Province), South Africa
Great initiative. I started a volunteer program, mainly for USA wilderness rangers to work in South Africa since 2003. The program is very similar to what you are describing. But I need support, marketing, funding, etc. to take it further. My wish is that the program can partner with some big association/institution/agency and that it can be developed into an international partnership and exchange program for workers, students, and wilderness supporters.

Submitted on 6 February 2007 by Scott Lundell, Assistant Director, Information and Volunteer Centre for Strathcona County. Sherwood Park, Alberta Canada
This has always struck me as being very similar to mission work. Although there are obvious differences, there are some very strong parallels. And that's been happening for years! Maybe this is just a modern incarnation.

Submitted on 5 February 2007 by Geoff Brown, Recreation Services, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Community Partnership Coordinator, Tallahassee, FL
Two summers ago my wife's family organized a trip to Hawaii where we were to celebrate her parent's 50th year anniversary. I searched the web and lined up several volunteer activities that we could adopt as a family project...litter pick up/ invasive non-native pest-plant removal... unfortunately none of my in-laws were into it! They just wanted a vacation! After reading this article, perhaps I should set up some activites here in Florida to recruit the breed of folks ('travelers') who want a 'connection.' They may be interested to find projects like these during a visit or vacation to help them feel connected to the destination in a way that a 'tourist' would not. It would be especially interesting to attach a 'donation' fee to help provide additional support for the projects.  Thanks!

Submitted on 5 February 2007 by Barb Patricio, Resource Centre for Voluntary Organizations, Edmonton, Alberta Canada
Great topic, Susan. I know of a group within Habitat for Humanity called Care-a-Vanners. The idea is simple: Take your RV - so that you are completely self-sufficient - and help build a house in any number of sites in North America. Great for Canadian snow-birds. It seems to me that a large organization such as Habitat could arrange it so that you are "cleared" through your home organization, which makes me wonder about other national/international organizations.

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