Hit the road and save the world! It’s a brilliant idea… but just how easy is it to actually make a difference whilst traveling? I have a confession to make… I have extremely mixed feelings about people volunteering abroad for a week here or a week there and then filling their Facebook page with pictures of them and beaming crowds of children. Do they have any child-care experience? Are they really able to make a difference to a child’s life in just one week or do they risk forming a connection with an at-risk individual and then, simply, leaving?
Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, is no stranger to criticism. Media reports regularly support claims that profits and visitor experience are trumping the needs of host communities. Volunteer tourism is the intersection between tourism and volunteering. It involves travellers participating in organised short-term voluntary work to help communities, the environment and/or research in the places they visit.
With summer approaching, we are near prime “voluntourism” season. The approximately $2 billion dollar industry sends more than 1.6 million volunteer tourists around the globe each year, according to NPR. To the students gearing up to travel to developing countries and refurbish a school, build a well or assist in some kind of humanitarian venture that can be finished in two weeks – consider this: Volunteer work is not a photo opportunity.
STUDENTS BEGIN THEIR 21-day trip by traveling to a ranch in the Guanacaste province. As volunteers, they will work with students from local schools and teach them about modern environmental issues. The teens also learn about Costa Rica’s development issues and speak with natives about recent environmental changes within the region. Trip participants will also experience popular tourist attractions like whitewater rafting, horseback riding, and ziplining.
If you are thinking about volunteering abroad, we need to talk. I never expected that my volunteering experiences in Cambodia would lead me to have so many contentious discussions about responsible tourism, sustainable development, commercial ethics and modern slavery. It is never easy explaining to well-meaning, generous people that their desire to help others may inadvertently cause more harm than good.
While scrolling through my Facebook feed as a welcome distraction from the midweek workload, I stumbled upon pictures from my friend’s service trip to Guatemala over Easter Break. The photos from her five-day trip featured members of her group holding babies, smiling while young girls braided their hair, and taking selfies with kids from the local village. In every picture, both the volunteers and the children had big smiles on their faces, yet I couldn’t help but feel a mixed reaction to the message the album implied.
How it Begins: Imagine you are living in a place so poor and remote that your family survives on $100 a year. The closest school is a 5 hour walk and the teachers rarely show up anyway. A trusted member of your community, neighbor or family relative approaches you with the idea that he can help your child and your family have a better and easier future life.
Where the Road Ends: A Reconnection Update Mahendra, our anti-trafficking coordinator, is traveling through the jungle under brutal conditions with no roads to monitor children that NGN rescued right after the Great Earthquake.
A testimonial from this recent talk: Zia came to our meeting this morning and was just wonderful. Her presentation was very informative and beautifully delivered. The screen notes and the video were extremely helpful. She got lots of applause and after she left, I had many members tell me how much they enjoyed the presentation.
When I was 15, I flew to Nepal. Hiking through the Himalayas, while teaching school children English and helping out at an orphanage? Could I have been a more selfless teenager? I was off to save the world. There are few things more cringe-worthy than watching 20 British schoolgirls trying to build a well under the scalding Nepalese heat. This is what I imagine a group of local men were thinking as they politely stood back while we puzzled our way through this contraption.
The Australian Consulate-General held a public outreach event for NGOs and civil society in Bali and launched the Australian Government’s #smartvolunteering campaign on Thursday amid reports about donated goods from Australia being held at the customs office in Bali.
On March 7th, NGN rescued 12 children from the sparse, no longer funded and unhygienic conditions of a children's home in Kathmandu. They are now staying at NGN's transit home while they receive medical and dental care during the time it takes to be in contact with their families. We have no idea what might have happened to these kids if the home's operator hadn't accepted this intervention by the Nepal Government and NGN.