“Our Man In Granada” On The Downside Of Voluntourism, Part 2By Kate | Permalink | No Comments | June 18th, 2007 | Trackback
(Find the beginning of Steve Jackson’s guest post here.)
“Imagine you spend two weeks as a voluntourist. Say you have no skills but are happy to help build a school and are just as happy to pay for the experience. Fantastic.
But if you’re paying then are you undercutting a local man who might only want $2 for a bit of bricklaying? Imagine that, you, the rich kid, working for less than someone living well below the poverty line.
You could also argue that without your financial contribution the school wouldn’t be built. Fair point but if it was all about the money then why didn’t you just stay at home and send the cash? You could also have saved the air fare and the environmental damage that planes cause.
Well the reality is then what would be the point? You want to be involved. You want to help, really you do. You also want the adventure and you want to feel good about yourself.
Fair enough to all of that. But remember, in that case, you are not a “voluntourist” you are a tourist. Plain and simple. You are helping, it’s true, but mostly it is about the experience.
Because of the fad of the voluntourist those trying to live up to the magic word of sustainability can find it tough. Perhaps you want to hang around a bit longer, perhaps you have real experience in development, education or safeguarding the environment, that you want to share. Perhaps all you want in return is the most basic of living wages.
But is that possible when you are up against the people who will pay for the privilege – even if they have no real skills to speak of?
Or are the “just passing through” backpackers making volunteers so disposable that your offer of help is brushed off with the thought that “there’ll be another volunteer along soon”.
To make it clear I am not criticising any volunteers. If you are helping, even in some small way, then you might still be influencing, for the better, a single life.
And how can you quantify that?
Perhaps you’re a doctor that treats patients for one week in a village and maybe you saved someone’s sight. Incredible.
Of course, it’d be better if there was the time and resources to teach someone locally to do the same work after you are gone. But saving someone’s sight is still an incredible achievement.
Okay the advice bit: if you can be more than just a wallet and some muscles than be it. If you can use your expertise, or provide a skill not found locally, then do that. If your assistance can carry on paying dividends AFTER you leave then that’s best of all.
Remember too, you don’t even need to be in-country to volunteer. Do you know how many grass roots NGOs need press releases written or logos designed?
If you only have time for voluntourism then choose your volun-tour group wisely. How much of what you are giving is going to the people YOU want to help? How much is paying over-inflated executive wages? Be difficult. Ask them.
Finally here’s the, not always happy, scenario of the long term sustainable volunteer (SV) and the voluntourist (VT) working together.” (Continue here.)
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