Volunteer Abroad...Why Can't It Just Be Simple?
This past week I noticed a flurry of activity in the media about Voluntourism. Of course a few of the writers simply cannot type volunTOURism. They revert to volunteerism. It's like their fingers literally hang up and the right hand becomes the left and all of a sudden it's teer and not tour.
Who can blame them, really? With hotels, cruise lines and resorts offering 20-minute "cutting edge" volunTOURism activities, those organizations involved with longer programs dedicated to "sustainable" good probably have a hard time associating themselves with the resorts. And we don't even want to get the Aid and Development people upset. They Blog relentlessly about the demon that IS VolunTOURism.
[As an aside, having nothing to do with the subject of this post, I've often wondered how the Aid and Development professionals have so much time to Blog constantly and Tweet their inane crap. And then, of course, it dawned on me. If all those people are sitting at their computers boring the planet to death in the Blogosphere, there continues to be a need for Aid and Development and thereby sustaining their own reason to exist. Just sayin'.]
I saw an article in the Guardian about "Students given tips to stop gap year travel being 'a new colonialism'" yet the article fell down on the side that a poorly planned volunteer project isn't as good as a well planned volunteer project. And I woke up early just to read that bit of wisdom.
And then over on Good Intentions Are Not Enough (another Development and Aid Blog) there was a guest piece about "Voluntourism IS The Best Option." That piece went on for 3 days it seemed, so the guest writer could make 4 points. (I'm not sure why the author wrote VolunTOURism in his title and then went on in the rest of the post and wrote about VolunTEERism, but he did.)
And then I wondered why these people drive me crazy. I cannot be the only person annoyed by all the hoopla over Voluntourism. I cannot be the only person who is tired of reading about this "new" trend in travel (which started hundreds of years ago). Does no one read history books? I refuse to believe I'm the only person who gets tired of reading this stuff.
There is no accurate research on Voluntourism. No real numbers that can be proven. And most of the people writing about it are academics and Aid and Development workers (bloggers…they don't really work I'm convinced.) The people on the ground defend what they are doing, and the people providing the projects defend what they are doing. So unless you're on the ground as a VolunTOURist, or you're on the ground setting up these projects, you're noise. Pure and simple.
But now I'm starting to examine our Conversation Corps and Conversation Partner initiatives. Are they mostly cultural exchange? Or are they mostly volunteering?
When I look at the media and Blog posts over the last two years and I read the debates on Service Learning, Learning Service, Voluntourism, Volunteerism, volunteering, volunteer abroad, sustainable projects, poverty tourism, orphan tourism, doing more harm than good, doing more good than harm…living with a family and teaching them some conversational English seems tame by comparison.
The latest mantra is Learning Service. My mantra is, "you can't impact anything unless you can find a way to communicate." You can't learn without communicating. You can't serve without communicating. What we're doing in the Conversation Corps is learning how to communicate and we're exchanging culture. Then, and only then, can you start learning.
Former and current members of the Corps...what do you think? Is Conversation Corps a volunteer abroad project first followed by cultural exchange? Or does cultural exchange come first? And for anyone who has a comment, please share yours below. We always want to know what you think.