Suck My Nation! The newest addition to the GeoVisions family of volunteer Blogs. Read Don's Blog here.
Conversation Corps member, Don Deerie, is writing an amazing Blog with the most unique photos of life in Thailand I've seen. Don is volunteering to live with a family in Thailand, and teach them English around 15 hours each week. In return, he's getting free room and board with the family. At GeoVisions, we call that Conversation Corps.
How many people get to actually live with a Thai family for a month? It is a rare opportunity, and Don is making the most of it. Here is an entry from June 15:
All smiles in the ราชอาณาจักรไทย
-2nd week in Thailand
-3rd day as an English tutor to 2 students
I'm living with my host family for a month. I have my own room (a room larger than my parents'). The family owns a motorbike shop.
Don is a student at Bates College in Maine and speaks Spanish, Dutch and is learning Czech. He brings to the Conversation Corps a great sense of humor and tons of excitement for Thailand, his host family and teaching them some conversational English.
If you have any interest in Thailand or what it's like to live with a family in that stunning country...or if you have questions about joining the Conversation Corps, you will enjoy reading Suck My Nation.
Do you worry about not being able to teach English? Leave us your comments below! The Conversation Corps is about teaching conversational English. Anyone can do it. What are your thoughts about Don's Blog or the Corps? Please leave them below.
Who among us have not wondered, at least once, if Voluntourism is doing good, or doing more harm than good? I have even wondered, who is helped more on a Voluntourism project--the project or the volunteer?
You can't do this work and not wonder about these things. Unless you're one of those senders of volunteers who is doing it for the money. (If you are, please raise your hand so the rest of us can see what we're doing differently.) I do not jest. That is not meant to be funny.
I know what you're thinking…GeoVisions "sends" volunteers abroad. Writing a post like this…what are you thinking? Look. I didn't say I agree. I said I "wonder" from time to time.
So I happened to be wondering sometime ago, I came upon a Blog I really, really like. There is content that makes me think critically about Voluntourism. I always learn something, and the writer causes me to think really hard about our programs.
If someone is causing you to think, and if someone is causing you to be critical enough to examine the "what" you do and more importantly, the "why" of what you do…that's always a good thing. In all honesty, reading someone critical of what you do can cause you to do what you do better, and with more meaning.
Check out Tales From The Hood.
One of the reasons I think GeoVisions has great programs, obviously, is we think critically and we don't pile on. I've used the phrase "pile on" over and over in this Blog. It is rare for me to see innovation out there with new volunteer abroad programs and it is rare someone pushes the envelope and engages in critical discussions about what good we are doing…where, how and why.
Do we, as Voluntourists, offer the solution and then search for a need? Here is a quote from Tales From The Hood:
The way far too many amateurs want to do aid:
- Have a solution (used clothes, volunteers, bunch of soccer balls, a gadget, etc…)
- Find a problem that you can, with a little imagination, use the solution identified in Step 1 to partially solve.
In fairness, here is where that writer suggests would do the most good:
The way aid should be done:
- Understand the need that needs to be addressed, the problem that needs to be solved.
- Plan a solution based on that need, on that problem.
- Implement the solution to meet the need, fix the problem.
See? I started out this post explaining that I love reading this stuff. How can you not be challenged? How can you not learn? Great stuff.
Here is another Blog I highly recommend: Good Intentions Are Not Enough. This Blog is for everyone who is going be a Voluntourist. Read and use for your preparation. It's great.
You can use the Comments section and tell us what you think. I hope you will. Are you a Voluntourist? Can you share the work you did on a project? Have you continued your work after your return? Have you encouraged others to become involved?
I admit that I'm critical of a lot. We pride ourselves at GeoVisions on exacting standards. And the older I get the less patience I have. What I have not done over the years is use this Blog to attack anyone, especially someone who truly wants to make life better for others (and themselves).
Over the years I have weighed in on "voluntourism vs. volunteerism" and all the other "isms" of travel and volunteering. I've taken a strong stand on VERY short-term volunteer projects vs. VERY long-term volunteer projects and the pros and cons of each. I've entered the "not-for-profit" vs. "for-profit" debates and donned bruises I've worn with pride.
And I have, in fact, marveled at the Ritz-Carlton Group's Community Footprints program and how at many properties they are practicing voluntourism with their guests…with a great deal of success. While others were taking shots at Ritz, Sue Stephenson (@RitzCarltonCSR) over there was winning me over because they actually thought out each and every project and focused on the results of their guests helping out locally vs. the length of the project. I'm a huge supporter of their efforts. When they write up a project, they actually write up the project and the goals and the results.
And so it is with a certain amount of hesitation that I write my first critical article of an organization entering the voluntourism arena: Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. And I site a very specific article here: Guest Post: Craig Milan Introduces RoyalCaribbean's New Voluntourism Excursions.
Craig Milan, Royal Caribbean's CEO, writes that, "Voluntourism is a new and growing segment of travel…" That just isn't true. Voluntourism goes way back. There isn't anything "new" about it. Type "voluntourism" in Google and you'll find many organizations who have been incorporating this type of travel for more than 10 years.
Anyway, here are my issues:
1. Royal Caribbean has partnered with select tour operators and the Mexican Chapter of the Red Cross in Cozumel. Who are the tour operators and what is this doing for Cozumel? The article explains what the Red Cross in Cozumel does, but does not explain what the tourists do except plant some trees and shrubs at the headquarters of the Red Cross. This is, and I'm using the company's exact wording, "…available for sale online as well as onboard through this summer." I'm wanting to read what the tourists do besides beautify the Red Cross headquarters. I don't see it.
2. It gets better. If you're headed to Europe with Royal Caribbean, you can buy a shuttle bus pass in Venice. If you do, you'll get a Chorus Pass ticket for FREE ($13 value). The "voluntourism" part of that, I guess, is that The Chorus Association in Venice will "reinvest" those funds ($13) for the upkeep of churches and art in Venice. I'm not sure what you're volunteering here…the shuttle bus ticket? No one on this "project" is doing anything to make Venice better for anyone. I actually read this part of the article 5 times.
3. Over in Turkey, if you will buy a "selected tour" when you get off the ship (or on board), you "will have a tree planted near the House of Mary in your honor and you will receive a certificate to this effect. This project is focused on the re-forestation of this critical historical site." What is the project? Riding a tour bus? The tourists don't even get to plant the tree and have their photo taken?
4. Lastly (I promise) is the Whales & Glaciers: Citizen Science Adventure tour. Yes, tour. I clicked the link and I hope you will too. There isn't enough room for me to vent here on this project.
"You will play a significant role", "Get hands on experience", "you will work to identify, track and record", are unfortunately offset with:
"tour guarantees whale sightings/observations", "watercraft that provides a comfortable cabin", "A $100 cash refund is provided by the tour operator if whales are not sighted on the trip" ending with "All participants on this excursion are eligible to enter to win cash prizes in the tour operator's 2010 Capture Juneau Photo Contest."
Royal Caribbean…I tried. I really, really tried to get it. Here at GeoVisions we call this cashing in and piling on. And we are not "anti-short term" projects. I started out explaining that we love the work the Ritz Carlton group is doing, and they have short projects too. But those are REAL projects. Call them. Tweet Sue (her Twitter handle is above) and get a clue. Sue will help you. They're nice folks over there and they can straighten you out.
There are other places who can help also: voluntourism.org and voluntourismgal.com. If you truly want to help other people and give back to the communities where you park your boats, get in touch with either one of those two organizations. You'll have to prove to them that you're serious and if you do...they will help you provide state of the art projects that are meaningful and sustainable. Even really short projects. You might even be able to attract groups of people going on a cruise to volunteer in various communities.
And I'm personally inviting you to come to the WYSTC conference in Beijing, China this October. No cruise ships there, but you can fly in. Come for a few days and meet others who have been in this space many years. Connect with them and learn more about this space. I'm offering to send you a copy of WYSE Work Abroad Best Practices Manual for Volunteer Programs. The manual is supposed to be for members only…but you really do need this manual. And I want you to have it. And use it.
I have to end this post by saying I write for myself and other staff here might not have chosen a similar tone. So don't judge all of GeoVisions by this post. And I also have to say that I don't write for WYSE. GeoVisions is a member. And we contributed to the Best Practices Manual and I do sit on the Volunteer Programs Working Committee at WYSE. But I don't write for that committee either.
I just saw the article and took issue. I've highlighted my problems with what Royal Caribbean is calling voluntourism. And I've offered them people who would love to help them get it right, and I've offered materials that can help them also.
There are enormous resources for anyone wanting to enter the voluntourism space and for those who have been around a long time. There are people dedicating their lives to making sure the space is strong. Feel free to ask for help to get it right. All of us in this space want it to be as good as it can be. But we are only as strong as our weakest link.
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