Spending a week or two building a new school or helping local artisans with their crafts in an impoverished country and then relaxing for a week in typical tourist fashion seems like a fantastic, yet also admirable way to vacation. This is voluntourism, and it has become a huge industry. Over 1.5 million people participate in voluntourism annually, spending billions of dollars. Recently, voluntourism has come under scrutiny for perceived negative motivations and outcomes. There are, however, many proponents of voluntourism who emphasize the positive aspects of the practice.
Despite the many positive aspects of voluntourism, some people believe it actually causes more harm than good. Some companies in the industry charge a lot of money for the experience, yet the communities they help may see little of thAT money.
Opponents of voluntourism argue that it provides a great benefit for the travelers and little for the actual host community. The travelers pay thousands of dollars to see a brand new world for a short period of time and to feel that they are truly helping. The travelers, however, often do not have the required expertise to add real value to the host community. If a well is being drilled or a building constructed, it is possible that members of that community would be able to accomplish the physical tasks more quickly and efficiently than the travelers. Opponents contend the money spent for many of the volunteers to travel would be better spent going directly to the host communities.
Voluntourism’s proponents point to the fact that once people experience and witness the poverty in a 3rd-world country, they become more invested in that community’s and its country’s welfare. Upon returning to their homes, these people spread the word to friends and family, raising awareness for the cause. Money may then begin flowing into experienced non-profit organizations that work directly with communities in impoverished countries. The cycle comes full circle when the non-profits bring people searching for voluntourism opportunities to aid in designing and completing their projects.
Voluntourism allows travelers to experience fulfillment and a sense of purpose while also exploring beautiful and fascinating countries they otherwise would likely not visit. The experience can be truly life changing, as visitors are exposed to poverty and need in a personal context, thus leading to a far deeper appreciation of some parts of the world’s problems.
A partial list of organizations providing eco-focused tourism opportunities is below.