Is “Voluntourism” Itself Being Exploited? via The Huffington Post

Voluntourism is under fire. I know, because I have been a part of pointing out theunintended negative consequences of our good intentions for some time. Recently, blogs about “the problem of little white girls and boys” and other rants about voluntourism are starting to get more and more popular. But maybe it’s time to look further into this criticism.


In a piece on his new Voluntourism Institute blog, David Clemmons recently released an article exploring the exploitation of voluntourism itself. It resonated with me, as over the last few months I have read a number of “anti-voluntourism” pieces that people have sent me thinking I’d love them, but instead they made me really worried that these arguments are moving off point.


David’s article was spurred in part by an ABC Australia Broadcast piece I was a part of, which they provocatively named “Is ‘voluntourism’ the new colonialism?” David might be surprised to know, I agree with him in large part: “voluntourism” is being wrongly blamed as the “culprit” here and in other similar pieces. In my opinion, it is the marketing of the most irresponsible volunteer programs, and additionally, our own egos, which are leading us astray, not any whole sector.


This week I read a piece a colleague had written that was denouncing “voluntourism” yet promoting “responsible volunteering.” Let’s dissect this. Is it the “tourism” part people have a problem with? If someone comes and volunteers for a week and then goes straight into a week-long tour of the country, does that act of tourism negate or further in some way the negative or positive impact they had during their volunteer time? Isn’t it less important that the person engaged in tourism activities, and more important to ask WHAT they did — both in their volunteer time as well as their travel — in order to be able to judge the impact of their work? I think we’d all agree it would be ridiculous to think that a volunteer can only have a positive impact if their volunteering does not happen directly before or after a ‘tourist experience’ — as if someone volunteers for a week, goes home for a while, and then takes a separate trip back as a “tourist” we could then praise their volunteering. So let’s explore this further.


Continue reading on the Huffington Post!

From Service Learning to Learning Service via SSIR

We often use “service learning” to describe volunteer programs and international volunteer travel, emphasizing learning through service—service that teaches life lessons that help both the traveler and the world. The profound lessons that international volunteering can bring is one of the main reasons that academic institutions are incorporating it—and sometimes requiring it—in coursework.


But the concept of service learning is outdated. We are firm believers in the power of international travel to help people gain experience, perspectives, and skills that can help them improve the world, but think that going on a trip billed as “serving others”—when the travelers themselves are often the ones who disproportionately benefit—can undermine these effects.


Globalization, mass communication, and ease of travel have brought about a new sense of global interconnectedness, often accompanied by an increased sense of responsibility. Traveling to a place that exposes people to the realities of poverty and other global issues can spark complex emotions and a desire to take action. In our research on volunteer travel, we found that the motivation behind international volunteering was overwhelmingly the desire to “help” or “give back.”


Continue reading on the Stanford Social Innovation Review blog!

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.

Recommended Reading: Voluntourism Solutions

Voluntourism has been a hot topic in the media recently. Not too long ago the viral article “The Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys): Why I Stopped Being a Voluntourist” sparked some much needed conversations on the topic. We’ve noticed, however, most of the articles floating around the internet offer reasons why you shouldn’t be a volunteer tourist but not a lot of solutions. So we’ve compiled a list of recent articles highlighting ways to volunteer effectively:


In the article Know Before You Go: Key Tips for Volunteering Abroad, Part 1 featured on Volunteer Forever, you’ll find a handy list of tips summarized from the first three videos in our Know Before You Go series. Learn how to identify responsible volunteer organizations, be an effective volunteer, and continue learning and serving even after you’ve returned home.


Written by Learning Service for Everyday Ambassador, The Solution for Little White Girls (and Boys…and…Everyone…) gives an introduction to the fifth video in our recent series, “How Can I Do Good in the World?”


Also published on Everyday Ambassador, From Savior to Solidarity: An alternative for “White Girls” – and anyone else – considering international service offers another response to the popular “Problem with Little White Girls (and Boys)” article.


Rebecca Waxman, one of our very own Learning Service Ambassadors shares her thoughts on service as well as her personal experience in her piece on, “Faux Pas of the Well-Intentioned Westerner.”


We hope you find these readings insightful! Have you found any helpful articles recently?

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: