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

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Jul 2, 2010 10:34:00 AM

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.

CNN.com 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?

Written by Randy LeGrant

Randy is the Executive Director of the GeoVisions Foundation. He has spent the last 44 years managing organizations that send people abroad on cultural and educational exchanges.

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