‘1 billion tourists, 1 billion opportunities’ - Benefits of volunteer tourism
There is much negative press about volunteer tourism; questions are raised about the damage which can be done to local communities, and about who actually benefits from such trips. These are extremely valid concerns, and the commitment to ensuring volunteer trips are sustainable and have a positive impact needs to be strong. Such negative press puts pressure on companies and charities offering volunteering opportunities (either as part of a holiday or as a separate placement) to act responsibly.
So are there no benefits of volunteer tourism?
Yesterday was World Tourism Day so how about instead of focusing on the negativity surrounding tourism, and more specifically volunteer tourism, we focus on some of the positive impacts the industry can have. The theme for this year’s World Tourism Day is ‘1 billion tourists, 1 billion opportunities’.
When managed responsibly tourism:
- Creates jobs for local people as guides, cooks, drivers, managers
- Boosts the economy when food and materials are purchased locally
- Creates training pathways for people wanting to work in different aspects of the industry, allowing people to make careers as opposed to just short term employment
- Offers both tourists and hosts a cultural exchange experience and can enhance understandings of global citizenship
- Is a way of learning about the world that you can’t match in a classroom
- Puts value on natural resources or conservation areas by increasing the incentive to protect vulnerable areas and wildlife
The above benefits also apply to responsibly managed volunteer projects abroad.
Our examples of the benefits of volunteer tourism
From left to right: Mrs Serah Kinuthia, Everlyne Odia, Esther Wambui, Jen Gathirimu and Eva Muronji. All current or former employees of Moving Mountains and Adventure Alternative Kenya with expertise ranging from tour guiding to cooking to education.
Joseph Mungai who works for AA and MM Kenya and leads groups of clients on expeditions across East Africa as well as spending a large proportion of his time managing Moving Mountains development projects.
Ibra Ali, who works on our Moving Mountains Community Action Workteam in Kenya and Tanzania and who helps to coordinate construction projects around the region. Ibra has been trained in various construction techniques and now uses these skills help carry out Moving Mountains development projects.
Pasang Tendi Sherpa, director of Adventure Alternative Nepal and highly experienced mountain guide. Pasang manages all of our operations in Nepal and deals with hundreds of tourists a year as well as committing time to Moving Mountains Nepal as a trustee.
How to choose the right volunteer organisation?
Thousands of people volunteer overseas every year, and while most people go out with the best intentions and high hopes of making a genuine change, some might end up disappointed with their level of impact or with the general management of project. Some might even find themselves within an organisation where commercial interests overshadow community needs or development aims.
It is therefore advisable that potential volunteers do their research well before choosing an organisation and setting off. But where to start? A short article by Eric Hartman highlights some of the common mistakes well-intentioned volunteers might make. Tourism Concern has also made a list of relevant questions which could serve as a starting point for finding the right organisation to volunteer with.
Choosing the right volunteer organisation means doing research and demanding transparency
There is a lot of information available online that can help answer some of the questions and give an insight into the work of an organisation. Websites, social media, external evaluations and previous volunteers can all be valid sources to finding out more about how overseas projects are set up and managed. This information might give thought for additional questions that require writing an e-mail or picking up the phone.
On Moving Mountains’ website there is a lot of useful information covering the charity’s rights-based approach, policies on child protection and gender equality, training and advice for volunteers, evaluation methods and much more. Volunteers are encouraged to read through this material as it gives a better understanding of how the organisation works, along with its aims and ethos.
The right volunteer organisation will seek to align expectations
Volunteers might set out with the mission to “save the world” and “change people’s lives completely”. However, these grand expectations can almost only be let down. So it is important to know exactly how and to what degree their work will make a difference.
A central thought of Moving Mountains is that anyone, skilled or non-skilled, with an interest in international development and with the willingness to help, can get involved. However, the interests and skills of volunteers have to be carefully matched with the needs of the communities. In this regard, expectations on both sides need to be properly defined. Having volunteers understand their role in the bigger picture also helps them appreciate their impact even though they might not see the long-term benefits.
A combination of sharing, learning and interacting with people from around the world can change attitudes, develop new opportunities and foster personal development.
With this blog post, we hope to inspire and encourage potential volunteers to research their organisations and start asking more questions – both for the sake of themselves as well as the communities abroad.
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