Voluntourism: what difference will you make?

By: Debra Ronca | How Stuff Works


 

voluntourism-3_A Canadian volunteer varnishes a long tail boat at the Cape Pakarang Boatyard in Thailand. After the tsunami, many traditional fishermen lost their boats. Photo_Getty Images_www.adventure.howstuffworks.com

A Canadian volunteer varnishes a long tail boat at the Cape Pakarang Boatyard in Thailand. After the tsunami, many traditional fishermen lost their boats. Photo: Getty Images

Another important thing to remember is to manage your expectations. Voluntourism trips are usually short — two weeks or less. You can’t expect to see big community changes within such a short timeframe. If you find it important t o have closure at the end of your trip, make sure you choose a project that has a beginning and an end — for example, building a well or painting a schoolhouse.

 

Experiencing a community markedly different from your own can be a heavy experience. Be prepared to process everything you deal with. You might see extreme poverty, unclean living conditions, malnutrition, drought or severe weather conditions. On a brighter note, you can also expect some time to yourself where you can be a regular tourist. Many voluntourism packages include time off for exploring. You might get a free day or two at either end of the trip, or you may only be required to work a few hours a day, with the rest of the time to yourself. Every trip is different, so choose one that suits your preferences.

Voluntourism seems like a lofty and charitable idea. However, the concept does have downsides.

When Voluntourism Fails

Voluntourists like to believe they’re making a positive difference with the work they do on vacation. But not everyone agrees with that sentiment. Critics have their doubts about the value of voluntourism.

Proponents point out that voluntourism not only funnels dollars into a local economy, but also assists in positive community development. This may be true, but critics feel that voluntourism may do more harm than good. They claim that short-term voluntourists often arrive unskilled and untrained, and as a result, don’t have enough time to make an effective contribution. Another concern is that some work projects actually displace local workers, not to mention the insinuation that locals aren’t good enough to do the work themselves.

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