Voluntourism is a buzzword that has been
around for a few years now and I’ve recently been reading up on the topic. I
thought it might be a helpful subject to explore as it is increasingly one of
the first ways people engage with other cultures where they often feel it
actually changed them or had an impact on their understanding of culture.
|Google Image Search of “voluntourism”
So over the next few blog posts, I’m going
to outline some of the ways it’s defined, some of the arguments against
voluntourism, some of the arguments for it and maybe even try and do a “so what’s
the point/what do we learn” finale post of sorts. Aside: I’m not quite sure how
many parts there will be to this series yet, as I want to keep the individual
posts as succinct as I can…but there is a LOT to cover!
So what is voluntourism? As you have
probably already gathered, the word itself gives a big hint: it is the
combination of two words – “volunteer” and “tourism”. Yet actually putting a
definition on what the scope of voluntourism is proves harder than at first
Voluntourism.org defines it as “The
conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a
destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture,
geography, history and recreation — in that destination.”
Someone in their marketing department
definitely has a way with words 🙂 Having been
on a few trips that could fit into this category, I would hardly describe them
as being “seamlessly integrated”…and there were a few that had the “worst”
elements of travel, as well as the best. They were great experiences – don’t
get me wrong. I just think this definition is a little too sweet and serene…
In more basic terms, it’s when people
travel overseas to visit another country and to volunteer in that country. It
is often seen as a unique way to immerse yourself in the culture, give a
helping hand and combine seeing the main tourist sites of that destination…
…but not necessarily. And so the complications
begin. As I studied Humanities at university and had to write A LOT of essays,
one thing that is drilled into you from the start to the end of your degree is
to define your key terms!
Here are some of the questions that come to
my mind about the definition*:
- What’s the difference between “voluntourism”
and simply “volunteering”…just in a different location? Is it worth separating
the two? And for the matter, what about work placements, study abroad etc?
- Is there a particular itinerary
that constitutes “voluntourism”? Like,
go on a holiday, then volunteer for a week? Or just visit tourist sites on
weekends and on the weekdays volunteer?
- Does it go so far as to
encompass those who simply stay at or buy from social enterprises?
- Does the length of volunteering
matter when defining voluntourism? E.g. Is a short two week stint the same as a
6 month or 1 year stint? Or is a longer term stint considered a placement or
just another job that you did in a different place, even if you didn’t get
- And for that matter – can you
be a paid “voluntourist”?
Now that your brain is exploding with how
boggling this is, let me leave you to ponder these questions – and I do
encourage you to. Feel free to post your thoughts below. I’m really looking
forward to posting on this series…especially because it is so relevant to the
thinking behind the title of my blog: Collaborative Bridges.