Is voluntourism the new colonialism? Interviews on ABC Radio National

Volunteer tourism, or ‘voluntourism’, is one of the fastest growing areas of the tourism industry. However new evidence suggests that it may be doing more harm than good in developing countries, as Kerry Stewart reports.


Earlier this week Daniela Papi was interviewed on Encounter – ABC Radio National along with other voices in the volunteer travel sector. You can listen to the full interview online.


Short on time? Read the accompanying article here.

Learning service as an effective alternative to voluntourism

“Maybe I’d like it there if I was volunteering in an orphanage and got to play with the kids.”


I slapped my hands over my face, shaking my head. I’ve been living in Cambodia for over three months now and probably haven’t been Skyping my best friend back home as much as I should, but I couldn’t believe she still had no idea what I was actually doing here.


Work-mode took over and I began spitting out numbers like, in Cambodia over 75% of the children in orphanages aren’t actually orphans at all and even though the number of orphans is decreasing the number of orphanages is increasing with the rate of tourism. I explained how visiting and volunteering at orphanages can perpetuate child exploitation.


“I didn’t know that,” was all she said after I’d finished my spiel.


Had my friend acted on her desire to volunteer, not just at an orphanage but anywhere, she’d be bombarded with an overwhelming number of options, good and bad. When you’re surrounded by talk on development and the effects of volunteering it’s easy to forget run-of-the-mill voluntourism projects can be indistinguishable from programs making sustainable contributions to those hearing about it for the first time. Even though I know spending a week painting a classroom will unlikely make any kind of difference in the local community my friend may see it as an excellent opportunity to “give-back”.


– See more at:

Learning Service on KEEN Blog!

A big thank you to KEEN for featuring our contest on their blog and providing some awesome prizes!


Exploring foreign cities, meeting interesting people, tasting local cuisines – the reasons we love travel are endless. Recently volunteering has risen in the ranks of what motivates us to venture abroad. Every year more people jet across the world looking for ways to “give back” or “make a difference” to the communities who host us while traveling.


As with any growing trend, volunteer travel receives its fair share of criticism. Volunteers are often blamed for contributing to dependency, offering unsustainable solutions, and taking locals’ jobs. Spending some time uncovering the negative effects international volunteers can have on communities can become overwhelming and leave you wondering if volunteering is even worth it.


Continue reading on KEEN’s blog!

New video PLUS new prizes!



Wanting to do good in the world and wondering whether volunteering is the best way? Struck by an urge to make the world a better place but not sure what to do next? This video – the fifth in our series – is designed for you!


After watching, don’t forget to answer the quiz question for your chance to win a pair of KEEN shoes and an Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube!


Want the chance to win more prizes? We thought so.


If you haven’t already, check out the other videos in our “Know Before You Go” series and answer the corresponding questions. At the end of the contest everyone who answered all six correctly will be entered in a drawing to win a 3-day stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia and two new prizes thanks to Eagle Creek:


The Dane Brief


The Emerson Carry-All

“I really believe that an open debate about how we can best volunteer is the only productive way of finding out what does and doesn’t work in the voluntary sector.”

As you can probably tell our Learning Service team is dedicated to providing insightful resources to help you make informed decisions when you travel and volunteer. We recently began releasing a series of videos full of tips for how to make the most of your time abroad and enlisted some like-minded individuals to help us spread the word.


Our Learning Service Ambassador team spans the globe and represents four different continents! Eleanor, today’s featured ambassador, currently lives and works in Cambodia and lucky for us, took some time to share about her own volunteer experiences and why she believes in the Learning Service movement.


Learning Service: Tell me about any past volunteering experience.


Eleanor: I have volunteered at home and overseas.  As a student at Durham I volunteered for Amnesty International and at University College London I was a member of the Student Human Rights Project. I have also done voluntary social media work for a UK based charity called the Social Breakfast. In Cambodia I volunteered as a teacher for Conversations with Foreigners and as a monitor on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal with the Asian International Justice Initiative.


LS: What made you interested in volunteering?


E: I was interested in volunteering because it enabled me to support causes that I am passionate about.  I was also keen to do something useful with the skills that I have.


LS: How did your past volunteering experience influence your decision to support the Learning Service movement?


E: As a volunteer you want to know that the work you do is of actual benefit to a certain cause. I was keen to support the Learning Service movement because by informing people of the different issues around volunteer travel we can help them choose programmes where they can achieve this.


LS: How do you hope Learning Service will influence the volunteer community?


E: I hope that Learning Service will influence the volunteer community by not only helping people identify how they can volunteer responsibly but also open up the conversation about international volunteering as a whole. I really believe that an open debate about how we can best volunteer is the only productive way of finding out what does and doesn’t work in the voluntary sector.


LS: Do you have any fun volunteer stories you’d like to share?


E: I’ve enjoyed all the volunteering that I’ve done but singing songs with my Khmer students in Phnom Penh about tops the list!


LS: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go (and why)?


E: I would love to visit Bhutan. It’d be interesting to learn about Bhutanese society given the importance they place on gross national happiness rather than GDP. The mountainous landscape looks wonderful too!


LS: Any lessons you learned from your past volunteer experiences?


E: I think the most important lesson I’ve learnt when volunteering is to persevere, it will be worth it in the end! This is particularly relevant to volunteering overseas where the challenge of both adapting to a new culture and missing your family and friends back home can make it difficult sometimes.