[ View the story "When volunteering becomes big business" on Storify] When volunteering becomes big business The Stream examines the growing business behind volunteer abroad tours.
Storified by The Stream · Thu, May 24 2012 14:31:08
Al Jazeera's People & Power sent correspondent Juliana Ruhfus to Cambodia to investigate alleged
People & Power - Promo: Cambodia's orphan businessaljazeeraenglish
Below is a promotional video for volunteer opportunities in Cambodia. It is from Projects Abroad, an organisation featured in the documentary. Some critics say that the voluntourism experience benefits the tourist more than people who are being helped.
Projects Abroad: Cambodiaprojectsabroad
Christina Taylor, a former voluntourist, says voluntourism's focus should be on how the local people can benefit.
@AJStream I question the egocentric focus on providing an ‘Amazing experience!’ or ‘The trip of a lifetime!’ for volunteers #voluntourismChristina Taylor
An British voluntourist, describes her recent experience in Nepal:
We were in an area where nobody needed us, and where we could make little to no difference. We couldn’t speak the language and had been told beforehand that it wasn’t necessary, so we had next to no input. I felt useless. I was acutely aware that I was there for two reasons and two reasons only: to attract attention, because I am white, and to attract money, because I am white. It was made quite clear to us at the end of the programme that the money the UK government invested in the programme, in return for Nepal taking on UK workers, paid the wages of several of the Nepali staff. They didn’t need me – they needed my government’s money.
Rachel was quickly met with a response from
, but their writer's suggestion was that she merely volunteer for shorter periods.
How many volunteer travelers are actually faced with this moment of truth at some point during their placements, particularly when the honeymoon phase of the experience begins to wear off? Could it be avoided with shorter-term engagements? For working folks, shorter-term engagements are a veritable necessity, as the amount of time allotted for vacation is only so long.
A volunteer experience in CambodiaAJstream
Here are some voluntourism experiences people shared with The Stream:
@AJStream Arusha, TZ. Delivered babies & taught Muslim Religion class. Not sure why I was qualified, besides being privileged white girl.Ali Glenesk
Backed by UNICEF,
aims to end orphanage tourism in Cambodia by providing alternative ways to help.
Daniela Papi, founder of an educational development organisation in Cambodia, comments on the negative effects of tourism culture on the poor.
I wish this was not real, but sadly, this is what some "responsible tourism" has come to. I have seen tour operators in Cambodia where you can pay $45 for the day to be driven out to a "poor village where you can hand out food or school supplies to the poor family of your choice." It's like buying food pellets at the zoo to feed the goats. Except these are people. Not goats.
The Sustainable Impacts and Strategic Global Initiatives Group provides some guidelines on what to consider when planning a voluntourism trip.
The first thing to keep in mind when planning a voluntourism trip is that voluntourism companies are a business, and so have other objectives besides helping the host community. I’m not saying this is bad, but only that it is something to be aware of. To increase business voluntourism companies may offer trips in areas that are popular vacation destinations—Costa Rica, for example—but that don’t necessarily need volunteers.
It is increasingly popular for young people to use a "gap year" before college to volunteer abroad. This trend has become the target of spoofs and parodies.