For a generation that has been given the capacity and the means to travel, more and more people are given a chance to engage in Voluntourism. Voluntourism is an activity wherein volunteers would tie-up with an organization to conduct volunteer work in a developing country. Once there, you have options on what volunteer work to do based on the skills that you’re good at – you can help build schools, you can learn how to farm, you can teach young children English, the list goes on. Travel wise, you will have to shoulder all the expenses – from airfare to visa including a certain amount for the registration. The organization you’ll work with is going to prepare all necessary arrangements to connect you to the community you will be volunteering to.
What makes voluntourism different from your regular travel is that you won’t be visiting famous tourist spots, but you will be immersed in a community. This doesn’t involve joining tours. Instead, you will be working with the locals which means you won’t be staying in hotels; you will be sleeping in the locals’ households.
Voluntourism gives an additional dimension in your quest for meaning. While you enjoy your time away from home, you will be gain new perspective. Your experience is a chance to make a difference in the lives of other people. Ideal as it may sound, voluntourism is not exempt from issues. We will discuss below why critics have scorned voluntourism.
It has been emphasized that before you venture on voluntourism, you have to choose an activity that would match your skills. This is very important because those skills will be what you will use to help the community you will be immersing yourself with.
The problem comes when these voluntours don’t have the skills and capacity. Writer Pippa Biddle shared her experience wherein. She said they erected walls for structures like libraries and orphanage. However, local workers to rebuilt it during night time because their work is not structurally sound.
With this experience, we can say that skills matching must be implemented strictly before voluntouring.
Poverty as a Tourist Attraction
Another concern raised by critics about voluntouring is the use of poverty as the main selling point in the activity. As mentioned earlier, the voluntour will be taking care of his/her expenses and will even pay for a registration pay (supposed to be going to the charitable organization).
This setup can be prone to abuse. With money involved, it cannot be denied that voluntouring is an industry. As Rafia Zakaria puts it, “The problem with voluntourism is that it treats receiving communities as passive objects of the visiting Westerner’s quest for saviordom.”
Doing it for the Gram
Some voluntours do it for the sake of their Instagram accounts. They might be a small number of those who have real intentions to help, but their social media obsession have brought in tainted impressions on voluntourism.
As we snap pictures of our experiences with the locals, we must do it to keep our memories with us. Let’s not do it because we want a lot of likes on our social media accounts. It’s quite appealing to have a picture of you with local kids hugging you in their torn clothes and shabby homes. If your intention is really to help, there is no need for you to broadcast it to the world. Despite these concerns, we cannot deny the fact that voluntourism has the potential to help communities in need.
Good or bad, everyone involved in the industry have to address these concerns so that it wouldn’t taint the image of voluntourism. As voluntours, we must be clear about our intentions and treat communities not as temporary immersion spots but as a group of people that genuinely needs help.