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!