I received this article about Sandals Resorts moving into the Voluntourism sector. They do this by offering a 2-hour Reading Road Trip every Thursday from 09:00 until 11:00 when schools are in session.
In other words, you can go to a Sandals Resort and sign up (for $20 extra) to be taken to a school and "guests will be invited to engage small groups of children in active reading strategies." Mercifully, "facilitators will be on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children."
Here at GeoVisions, we invented the Conversation Corps, and because we're committed to language, communication and cultural exchange, I have a few questions I'd love to see answered by someone at Sandals, please:
1. This is for real?
2. How do you teach kids to read in 2 hours? (Because if you can, I want to know about it. As a former high school and college English instructor, I find this a fascinating breakthrough.)
3. If you need facilitators on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children, I'm assuming you're using unskilled volunteers to teach reading in those 2 hours...each week (not daily).
4. Do the people who go to a Sandals resort think they can actually teach kids in Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas, Antigua, and Saint Lucia reading strategies in 2 hours, once a week? And because of this "voluntourism program", do they truly leave your resorts feeling "fabulous -- body and soul?"
Because in the article, Adam Stewart is quoted as saying, “I expect guests who participate will leave our resorts feeling fabulous – body and soul.”
It's 2 hours. On Thursdays, Dude.
Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco
"Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco announces the introduction of a new 'voluntourism' program that offers guests the opportunity to give back to the San Francisco community this summer. Beginning on May 17, guests who book the Bed and Breakfast package are encouraged to help pack care packages for women and children seeking refuge at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco’s Riley Center, a nonprofit community organization dedicated to providing safe and confidential services for women in abusive relationships."
I cannot imagine it, but as the article reads, here is how the Four Seasons defines Voluntourism: "A Care Package Kit will be provided to guests to assemble a bag for women and children at the Riley Center. Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will provide inclusions for the kits including toothbrushes, toothpaste and toiletries. Guests will also receive a map of locations to purchase their own Care Package inclusions should they choose. For a personal touch, each guest may include an inspirational note or personalized bookmark. Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will deliver assembled bags to the Riley Center on a regular basis."
As with Sandals, I have a few questions for the Four Seasons:
1. Packing bags is voluntourism?
2. How many women who are homeless, in danger, trying to flee abusive relationships are REALLY going to want to read an inspirational note (or use a personalized bookmark from a stranger) and from someone who can afford to stay at the Four Seasons?
3. Can the guests deliver the care kit to the Riley Center? The article reads that the guests assemble these packs at the hotel and then the hotel STAFF delivers the pack to the Riley Center. Am I reading that correctly? Where is the cultural immersion? Am I missing something?
4. What are the guests learning about homelessness in San Francisco? What are they learning about abusive relationships and how, perhaps, they can go home and help in their local community?
Crystal Cruises Sets New Voluntourism Excursions for Fall New England, Canada, and Caribbean Sailings
LOS ANGELES, July 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- "Volunteer opportunities are offered gratis on every 2011 sailing, giving guests and crew an easy, hands-on way to "give back" to local communities, while simultaneously providing an alternative cultural perspective to traditional shore excursions."
"Participants may assist four aid organizations on five east coast Crystal Symphony voyages:
Cradles to Crayons (9/16 and 10/8—Boston): Prepare vital winter items for homeless/low-income children, from schoolbags to warm coats and shoes.
Romero House (9/30—St. John, New Brunswick): Provide kitchen aid for a housing community that assists less-fortunate locals and resettling refugees.
Feed Nova Scotia (10/20—Halifax): Help food bank preparation/distribution.
Donkey Sanctuary at the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society (10/31—Antigua): Feed, clean, or walk the shelter's stray donkeys, dogs and cats."
"Launched in January, 2011, Crystal's 'You Care, We Care' program has been widely recognized as a trailblazing effort for socially responsible tourism."
Dear Crystal Cruises: Trailblazing effort for socially responsible tourism? Are you out of your minds? Seriously...this is NOT trailblazing. It's piling on.
I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Crystal Cruises, The Four Seasons San Francisco and Sandals are using the term voluntourism because they have the misguided idea that is "the thing" to do. In reality, they are misusing the word.
Guys...there are so many voluntourists out there going abroad for weeks and months doing sustainable work in communities and on projects and in some cases risking life and limb. To use the Voluntourism catch phrase for what you're doing does an incredible disservice to so many thousands of selfless voluntourists.
If you feel I'm being too harsh, and if you feel like I'm being unfair...we have a comment section below and I would love for someone to prove me wrong. Help me out here.
Today I noticed an article from The Vancouver Sun entitled The give and take of Voluntourism.
Tourists are increasingly likely to look for opportunities to do volunteer work while traveling abroad. Win-win? Perhaps. But some argue it’s become more fad than function. Janet Steffenhagen of the Vancouver Sun did a great job at explaining what Voluntourism is, and raising some well-deserved flags about this method of travel.
The first question Janet raised was "whether voluntourism has become more fad than function." It's an important question.
I'm going to raise the ire of my friendly competitors and I'm going to say that in all honesty, I think Voluntourism is more fad than function. That doesn't mean I don't like Voluntourism and it certainly doesn't mean I don't think it's a viable way to travel. GeoVisions offers 100+ programs, all under the heading of Voluntourism. But no one here has any delusions of grandeur in thinking we provide Aid to any country or community.
If you check out the travel section of the Sunday NY Times today, you will see that hotels and crusie lines are in the act now. Even vacation resorts are providing a 2-hour experience, teaching kids to read, and labeling that "Voluntourism." If you have an honest bone in your body, you know that isn't Voluntourism. It's "cashing in" on what they think is something new. And Voluntourism has been around since 1915...easily.
You can pound me all you want. At least I'm being honest. After doing this for 36 years, I come from a far different perspective than many others. You can skew the numbers, you can phrase the survey questions anyway you like. When you boil off all that fluff, this industry as a whole, provides an amazing first-class cultural exchange experience. Do our Voluntourists help people and make life better for others and change lives? Absolutely. We value our Voluntourists and we are proud of them. I'm just trying to put things into perspective.
I listened to a lot of people a few days ago talk about how they measure the "impact on the community" from their volunteers. I heard about a dozen different ways. And I'm thinking...if we have to work this hard to measure an obvious impact, and run it through another dozen filters at the University research level...I don't want any part of that. And if we have to work that hard to measure it, maybe we're trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
So Janet: Well done on that first question.
Question Two: Doesn't voluntourism benefit everyone? "Western tourists feel good about helping people in under-privileged countries and develop a better understanding of global connections, while communities in under-developed countries receive much-needed services."
Janet quotes Daniela Papi, of The Education Abroad Network, who argues that in many cases they do not — "voluntourists just don’t stick around long enough to find that out. Daniela recalled, for example, being part of a school group years ago that went to Cambodia to build a school, not knowing it would never be used because the community had no teachers. You have to learn before you can help, so go abroad to learn.”
Later in the article, Janet quotes me. But she says I disagree with Daniela. I know Daniela...and I don't disagree. OK...we disagree on some things, but I agree with Daniela that as Voluntourism providers, we have to provide an opportunity to exchange cultures...we have to learn about the people and community and project mission...before we can help in any sustainable way.
Having read the article again, I really want to meet Ruby Peppard and Don Warthe of the Quest for Community academy at Mount Sentinel secondary school.
"While Warthe and Peppard were pleased with the connections that students developed during these trips, they were troubled by the attitude among some that their lives were better than those they were serving and, hence, they could provide help. Those students were surprised to find at the end of the trip they had gained more than they had given."
Peppard described it as Western arrogance, adding: “We really wanted to combat that in a big way so we designed the program to teach the kids that the service they do isn’t about helping others. It’s about them, as young teenagers, being able to offer something for the opportunity to learn from others.”
If you are an Aid or Development organization, you can very easily measure the impact your organization is having on a community. If you provide Voluntourism trips, stop deluding yourselves. Focus on your volunteers and see what's going on with them. It is THERE you will find sustainable and very positive outcomes. If you're going to offer a 2 hour experience when people get off the cruise ship, or a 2 hour experience helping people read and that is the extent of it...you most certainly are not impacting ANYONE or ANYTHING other than the traveler. You are calling it Voluntourism. It isn't. It's cultural exchange. No more. No less.
What do you think? Use the comments section below to weigh in on your thoughts. Voluntourism: Function or Fad?
Why do you volunteer abroad? It isn't a poll I'm taking, and GeoVisions isn't conducting focus groups. I'm just wondering why you go abroad and spend time volunteering?
I have all these questions I want to ask about volunteering abroad. Why aren't you volunteering in your home country, for example? I mean, if you're volunteering, don't you want to improve things in your own country? Why go to the expense of volunteering abroad?
Do you know that in the last 6 months, Google hits for "volunteer abroad" have gone down? Does that mean people are losing interest in going abroad to volunteer? In a word, "no." Google hits for "voluntourism" are up. People are wanting to combine travel or a tour with some volunteering. So do people choose voluntourism because it's a way to go abroad on the cheap? I don't think so. Volunteer vacations can cost $3,000, $5,000. Many of these trips can be very expensive. Am I right or am I wrong?
Maybe it's the cultural exchange piece. Do you have a better chance of exchanging cultures living with the locals? Probably. What if you choose an organization that has their own volunteer houses? You then spend your day volunteering on a local project, and then you head back to a bed, a kitchen, a western-style toilet and huddle up with the volunteers on the project. Wouldn't you want a home stay if you're into cultural exchange?
Speaking for Americans, if I may for only a moment, I think we're a compassionate people. We are more comfortable in a "community" and so we're always striving for that. Community can be found where you live, where you visit, and online. Can the community we find online be as real as the community where we live or work?
The words "compassion" and "community" share the root com
, which comes from the Latin word for "together." When you think about the word "passion," you may immediately think of a favorite image of romantic passion, but surprise: "passion" comes from the Latin pati
and means "to suffer." "Compassion" literally means "suffering with." A compassionate community would then be a group of people who come together (community) to suffer with. Or, a group suffering together.
I feel like Andy Rooney on 60-Minutes. He asks tons of questions, getting at the truth. But he's funny. I generally am not.
I'm a Boomer, and I think the future of Voluntourism is Boomers. I know a couple of our competitors who think the future of Voluntourism is college students. To the extent that they have people on staff to help award college credit. We don't agree with them. For college students, the future is Internships. Sure, college students will always be volunteering. But the future? The trend for students now is Internships, and the trend for Boomers is meaningful travel.
If you're 18-21 years of age, you have told us that you need experience and you need an Internship. Otherwise, you're not finding a job when it's time to graduate. If you prepare for finding a job now, you'll be in a position to volunteer when you're older.
If you're a Boomer, you've done the student thing, you've done the work thing. You have money. You have time. You know exactly WHY you're volunteering abroad. And you don't need college credit as a lure.
What do you think? Are you ready to turn that "compassion" into college credit or do you prefer an Internship for your resume? Are you a Boomer, ready to share your compassion through cultural exchange? Or do you prefer an Alaskan cruise?
Let me know what you think.