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Ever Heard Of Voluntourism? Stick A Thousand Needles In My Eye


Where can I go to volunteer abroad?
Who offers voluntourism programs?
What projects are available?
What will it cost?
Are there any pitfalls?

To: Travel Blog Writers, CNN reporters, Wall Street Journal reporters and anyone else covering all-things Voluntourism.

Volunteer and street kids.If anyone who types can go to their favorite search engine and type in "voluntourism" and get 182,000 results or "volunteer abroad" and instantly get 1,220,000 results, (read this slowly):

y o u
a r e
l a t e
t o
t h e
p a r t y.

Everyday an article comes out about volunteering abroad.  Last week The Wall Street Journal ran one.  You can read the whole thing here.

The sections in that article are:

Where To Go
Paying For It
Plan for the Worst
And then the usual suspects in a box called "Helping Hands."  A sample of service travel organizations. ran an entire series of articles on Humanitarian Travel.  Just click on that link and you can see everything they posted on the subject.  The theme of the series was posted like this:

"The idea of volunteering away from home seems like a win-win to many travelers: a way to experience and help another community at the same time. But without a solid, well-designed program and reasonable expectations, volunteer travel can do more harm than good."

CNN even ran a section for iReporters to submit tales about their experiences, photos and videos.  And some did.  Click on My Volunteer Vacation and you can go straight there and read about trips people took.

Volunteer and orphans.But no one seems to be focusing on what happens when the voluntourists return home, the topic of my rant today, if you hadn't figured that out by now.

Searching for a program on a search engine, like going on a program, is the easy bit.  We simply do not need another article or Blog post to tell us where we can go, with whom we can go, when we can go and what we can do once we get there.  That subject has been covered.  Nice job everyone!

Why isn't anyone out there writing about what voluntourists do when they come home?  After the experience?  I'm really interested in "what they do with what they did."

I'm drawing a line in the virtual sand with this post.  To any Travel Blogger out there, and to any reporter thinking about an article or series of articles (makes me ill to think about it) on voluntourism--please reconsider.  I think I'd rather stick a thousand needles in my eyes than read another "where you can go", "what you can do," "what you have to look out for" article.  And the usual suspects listed out, as if these golden nuggets were just discovered in a vast wasteland for the very first time.

Get a clue:  Voluntourism has been around for a long time.  If I can type in voluntourism and get over a million results on Google…you are not reporting the news or anything newsworthy.

What I don't see is people and writers focused on what happens when a volunteer comes home.

Can you PLEASE report on these burning questions?  When a voluntourist returns from his or her experience abroad: Graphic of a back  pack

  1. Does he start up his own non-profit?
  2. Does she start up a volunteer project locally?
  3. Does the family join a community project and help out each week or each month?
  4. Does the returnee tell others?
  5. How involved in humanity is the experienced voluntourist, when she is now going about her normal everyday life, safely back at home?
  6. Can you provide examples that will move me to volunteer abroad too?
  7. Do you have a place these people can tell about what they are doing now?  (What a great iReport.)
  8. How many had such a moving experience, they have gone again?  And again...

Isn't that the story?  No one wants to look at vacation travel slides.  No one needs to read your article about how to do it and who to do it with.  The real story, for me, is what a voluntourist does after that experience and I really would sit down and watch those slides and video.

How do I know?  Because GeoVisions has this amazing group of returnees and we follow them and realize the overseas experience was just the start of the real journey many can take.  We see everyday that the journey continues and becomes so much more exciting after the trip ends.

How about the rest of you?  Am I alone here?  Please use our Comments section and let me know.  And while you're at it, if you volunteered abroad and you're reading this post, please tell us what you've done since you've returned. What have you done with what you did?


I agree with you that the vast majority of voluntourism articles focus solely on the preparation for entering into the field with little follow-up on people who have actually participated and what they have done with their experiences upon returning home. However, I find that I would be even more interested in articles about the experience itself, from real people, while they are participating in-country. I find that even with Geovisions finding comprehensive reviews, or even anecdotal experiences, about the trips and the work done on them is very difficult to find. While I am very interested I participating in a Conversation Corps voluntourism trip, I would be much less reticent to get the ball rolling if I could see posts from program alumnus.  
That being said, and while I agree with the author of this post, where are any articles of the nature described in this blog from Geovisions participants? I welcome any and all information one could provide on their experiences with the Conversation Corps or any other program offered by Geovisions.  
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 10:19 AM by Robin
Thanks for your comments. And trust me, GeoVisions needs to do a MUCH better job in getting info out there from our returnees. It is on the "things to do" list, and all the staff have seen your comment and so thanks for making sure we don't drop the ball. 
The other thing I can do is point you over to the right column of this Blog. Look in the Browse By Tag box, and find "Volunteer Blogs" and you should see a (15) there. That means if you click on Volunteer Blogs, you'll see 15 actual Blogs by GeoVisions volunteers. Some on program now, some returnees. Feel free to start there. 
Lastly, if you'll let us know what country interests you the most, we'll get email addresses to you. We simply don't publish those for privacy reasons...but there are a lot of people who have been willing to allow us to share their email addresses, when asked. 
Absent all that...I want to thank you again for making it clear we need to put some focus on getting more of this information available. 
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 10:34 AM by Randy LeGrant
I volunteered in Peru the summer of 2006 with a great local organization outside of Cusco. I was on a career break and deciding on what I wanted to do next in my career. That experience inspired me to return to the non-profit world (where I used to do event planning & volunteer management). 
It also inspired me to take a position with a similar organization to Geovisions in preparing participants for their volunteer abroad proram. 
And though I have contributed to the plethora of posts discussing how to choose a program, I think talking about it with an experienced voice does help to inspire others. 
I will be sure to follow up with some of our 'Briefcase to Backpackers' if they volunteered during their career break and see how that helped form their next career steps!
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 10:47 AM by Michaela Potter
Interesting comments. I went on my first voluntourism trip last winter (not with Geovisions) and for me it really was a life changing experience. I talked about my trip afterwards with my coworkers, friends, Facebook friends, total strangers. I blog about voluntourism now, and I am planning on signing up for two more trips, one of which with my girlfriend who will be doing her first trip. 
It think this is all a very important point because I think that volunteerism is, or at least should be, about more than just doing labor at a work site. The broader context is just important--for one thing, because it is likely that there is work going on at the site long after you left it, and also because the volunteer experience is also about so many other things, like the respectful bridging of cultural barriers, and much of that contextual activity can continue once you have returned home.
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 11:22 AM by MikeOnPurpose
You are absolutely right. If people looking to volunteer can talk to someone with "where the rubber meets the road" experience, it makes all the difference. That's why your Meet, Plan, Go meetings will come with built-in success! 
Please let me know what you find out when you ask your returnees at Briefcase to Backpackers. While their volunteer experiences are important, I'll bet some could rivet you with what has happened to them after their return. 
And for the record, @ottsworld and @careerbreakhqs is asking all the right my view.
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 11:26 AM by Randy LeGrant
Dude...I just looked at your Blog site. I love it. 
Keep up the good work and enjoy your next trip with your girlfriend. 
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 11:31 AM by Randy LeGrant
Interesting post and perspective. I think it would be a great idea for the GeoVisions blog to start featuring the experiences of volunteers after they return. This is one way in which you could judge whether or not the project was a success, and whether the volunteer actually learned anything. I would be very interested to read these experiences. 
I have included this post in our weekly roundup of interesting blog posts from this week. Check it out here and feel free to share this within your social network. 
Posted @ Friday, July 02, 2010 10:32 PM by GO! Overseas
I know. We need to do a better job letting people know what our returnees are doing when they get home. Thanks for the encouragement. 
Thanks, too, for highlighting our Blog and including it in your list of interesting posts. The goal now is to keep it there! :-) 
Posted @ Saturday, July 03, 2010 7:29 AM by Randy LeGrant
.....and how about throwing in a local perspective - what do the communities think about the volunteers they work with - how life changing is the experience for them? successes and disappointments - NOW that would be new!!!
Posted @ Monday, July 05, 2010 4:07 AM by sallie grayson
I love this idea. I sit on a working group of volunteer senders and receivers at WYSTC and we have a group SKYPE call next week. I'm going to bring this up actually. Thank you!! 
Posted @ Monday, July 05, 2010 11:18 AM by Randy LeGrant
Ok Randy - you've now set yourself up for your next blogpost; I expect to see some posts on what your volunteers are doing now!  
When I volunteered I actually kept a very detailed diary (which was on my blog) about everything I went through and ultimately how it made it a volunteer for life. I think there are lots of those stories out there - but you're right - many don't hear them. 
Posted @ Tuesday, July 06, 2010 7:40 AM by Sherry Ott
Sherry...right after the first comment, I decided I might have made a mistake. :-) We do need to highlight more of what people are doing now, and we will. I guess sooner than I had thought. :-) 
Apples to Apples though: you are living the great example because of the work you are doing now, which was inspired by your volunteer work. Proof that the biggest benefit of the volunteer experience you had, is what you are doing with that experience today. You are where the rubber meets the road, Sherry. I'm proud to know you.
Posted @ Tuesday, July 06, 2010 8:47 AM by Randy LeGrant
I'm glad to see the conversation that's resulted from this blog post! I've checked out the blogs you recommended, Randy. Some of them are helpful, others not as much - but it does provide a better picture of the experience one can expect from participating in a Geovisions program. 
I, like the other commenters, look forward to seeing some posts from Geovisions program alumnus. Plus, now that my life is a little more organized I think I'll be taking you up on your discounted rates you made available through September.  
Europe, here I come...
Posted @ Tuesday, July 06, 2010 9:27 AM by Robin
I have never really ventured abroad and volunteer. Recently, I started having thoughts about doing so. So just like anyone else who wants to voluntour, I searched for days and yes, 'million' results came up on my screen. 
I have always enjoyed being involved in the local community of Singapore, doing a little here and there, attending and helping out with peace exhibitions and talks, contributing the little I could. 
However, I wanted to do more, so thus this search. During this period, some questions came up in my mind: 
1. Why am I thinking of travelling abroad to help when people in my country need as much of this assistance? 
2. Exactly which are the websites I can trust to not simply make a profit out of fanciful travel? 
3. Will the help be sustainable and not just one-off? 
4. Then when I got to this article - what will I do when I return? 
Last year, I embarked on a journey with my lecturer and schoolmates to Vietnam to study on the culture, trend and situation relating to Domestic Violence in Foreign Marriages around the SEA region. We did not get to do as much hands on as I would like there with the locals, but through the understanding, we came back, filmed a docu-drama and held a conference in school. All it takes was to let just a single audience in the 1000 to know about violence towards women better.  
Remembering this, I was thinking - isn't what we bring back with us and the action we take thereafter one of the best proof that the trip can be considered worthy?
Posted @ Thursday, July 29, 2010 11:14 AM by Li Yu
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