Magazine topic: 
Life around the world

Voluntourism – a new trend of volunteer tourism

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Have you ever thought about going abroad to volunteer? Making a difference in a country less fortunate than your own is seen by most as a really positive thing to do. However, not everyone is in favour of this so-called ‘voluntourism’.

Volunteer tourism is a growing fashion – in 2015, it was estimated that 10 million volunteers helped on projects abroad. These include building houses or hospitals, teaching English in schools, helping locals get to grips with computers, installing water filters, looking after children in orphanages, and much more.

However, there’s an argument that volunteers take away jobs from locals who would have otherwise done that work. Yes, sometimes volunteers have specific knowledge which can benefit communities, such as IT skills or speaking English as a native language. However, in some cases they are put to work on construction sites, for example, depriving locals of a job on that project. Additionally, many young travellers are untrained for the role. This could become a health and safety problem on construction sites or when caring for children.

I volunteered myself last year in a library and school in Ghana. I helped to reshelve books, talked to the librarian about the running of the library and played games with the children. This was an enriching experience for myself, and the librarian and teachers really valued help and ideas on what they could improve, often based on my experience of European libraries and schools. However, I’m not a qualified teacher or librarian, and I felt like the locals were far too trusting of my opinion and decisions, just because I come from a more developed country.

Furthermore, the booming industry is seen by some as just that – an industry, a way for companies to make money. It’s estimated that up to $2 billion was spent by volunteers last year in 2015. Surely it would be better if this money were directly donated to an established charity, equipped to spend the money where it is needed the most? Instead, most of the money is going to profit-seeking tourism companies, while local communities only see a fraction of it. My trip to Ghana was part of a college project, so I organised everything myself. However, I met some Danish girls who had paid €7000 each to a company to volunteer at an orphanage – barely any of which was spent on the orphanage itself.

Finally, volunteering abroad also helps you develop as a person, and is a shining addition to a CV. I think volunteer projects are usually very valuable for communities, but often benefit the participant just as much, if not more, than those they are helping.


Do you think voluntourism is a good thing?


Elsa007's picture
Elsa007 20 November, 2016 - 14:52

I don't criticize you, gianggiang, rather I'm impressed by your insightful comment which also has a balanced point of view.
Actually I have a detestation of hypocrisy ;-(...

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gianggiang's picture
gianggiang 25 November, 2016 - 11:45

I also do not criticize tourists, they are good people, but they may not foresee negative impacts. Even some charitable organizations also make mistakes.So, we shouldn't call them hypocrite.
In my opinion, voluntary work is a two-sided affair, between volunteers and recipients. When doing voluntary work, we need to have a deep look at the poor's conditions, and avoid " giving fish instead of fishing rod". Otherwise, our effort is useless. About the poor, their self-esteems are vulnerable, they also want to escape poverty and need us to support them. So,volunteers shouldn't make them become largely dependent and helpless.

It's my turn :)) Question :
1) Is volunteer work a good way to reduce poverty ?
2) What we can do to eradicate poverty ?
Good luck.

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gianggiang's picture
gianggiang 19 November, 2016 - 13:26

I do not know if anybody would criticize me for being conservative or not, but I strongly disagree with voluntourism, just a ridiculous thing ! I know many situations in which tourists ( who tried to do voluntary work during their holiday) just make everything seem worse. For example, they pay a visit to an orphanage in Cambodia, teaching some Math and English lessons, dance with children, give candies,take selfie with them a lot then post on Facebook.( They seem to just want to shout out loud with the world " Heyyyy, you see I'm a good person, I'm generous..") After one or two weeks, they disappear and another volunteer come and do the same thing. Are voluntourists aware of that orphan s suffer from trauma as they had to say goodbye to the ones they've known and more poor families push their children into orphanage to earn more ? Instead of paying hundreds of dollar to fly from Europe to Cambodia to take photos with orphans, why not support Cambodian women with Pink Phone project ?
I would like to emphasize that Children and the poor are not tourist attractions, they are not the background for voluntourist's Facebooks, they are not the studio for tourists to show off their generosity. Tourists can do a lot to help the poor: buy farm produce or traditional goods and souvenirs, then write a blog " Heyyyy, I've visited a beautiful village, nobody can believe that in such remote area, we can find heaven!!!!!!" to attract attention....
There are many ways to help communities and voluntourism is not on the list.

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Jonathan - Coordinator's picture
Jonathan - Coor... 22 November, 2016 - 02:00

Hi gianggiang and thanks for your comment. If anyone wants to know more about the Pink Phone project in Cambodia that giang mentioned, you can watch this video in our Video zone. :)
Jonathan (LearnEnglish Teens Team)

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