Why this topic?
I wish that I could say I had heard of the time “voluntourism” before this month, but like many of you I suspect that it’s a new thing. It’s obviously volunteer + tourism.
I’ve just resigned from my job as a lawyer in Auckland, NZ, and have decided to head to Sri Lanka where I hear there is loads of tea, great cheap food, and azure surf. I am also hoping to do some good while I’m there.
The case against voluntourism
The literature on voluntourism is increasing, and it’s divided into two camps. One school of thought is that tourists, with their transient commitment to a program, and lack of skills, are not the ideal form of volunteer.
People against voluntourism advocate that tourists arrive in a society, no doubt with good intentions, but create bonds with children for a limited time and then disappear back into the abyss. – I’ll come back to this point in a moment.
However, the real concern seems to be the nature of organisations involved. The statistics at first glance are harrowing. It turns out that orphans in orphanages you volunteer in aren’t actually orphans. And that the orphanage you volunteer in actually takes children away from their parents, and uses you, the paying voluntourist, to profit from this “kidnapping”.
Alright well that paragraph was slightly emotive, but it’s supposed to be – that image scared me – and it does happen.
But, the response is this – if you do your homework, and have skills to offer are you doing the community a disservice by attempting to give back?
I had it put to me quite well recently, [“the organiser”] told us that some of the kids were abandoned by their parents because they were too poor to care for them, but somehow that’s sadder than being orphans”.
So here’s a record of my view before I engage in one of these organisations:
- I like to think I’ve done my homework, the organisation I’m going with is run by locals for locals.
- I’m spending three to four days orientating myself, finding out about the various projects and will only get involved if I can contribute in a tangible and lasting way.
I’m about to be a Volunteer Tourist, and I will record my experience on here.