May 24, 2012

When volunteering becomes big business

The Stream examines the growing business behind volunteer abroad tours.

In countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, an increasing number of Western visitors are forgoing traditional tourist itineraries to volunteer in underdeveloped communities. Tour operators design programs where volunteers pay a few thousand dollars to build schools, teach English, or care for orphans.

Critics of “voluntourism” say that money paid for these experiences doesn’t benefit the communities they are supposed to help, and that local institutions are deliberately kept underdeveloped so that volunteers continue to come in.

In this episode of The Stream, we speak to Ken Budd, author of “The Voluntourist”; Tom Pastorius, vice president of Projects Abroad; and Juliana Ruhfus, an Al Jazeera reporter who recently filmed a documentary on “voluntourism” in Cambodia.

What do you think? Do such projects help or hurt communities? Send us your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #AJStream.