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Quack Like A Duck? Walk Like A Duck? It's VolunTOURISM!

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Sep 23, 2010 9:15:00 AM
Photo of a duck upside down in a wine glass.I've been reading lately some Blog posts about volunteering abroad vs. volunteering locally.  There is always something people want to write about with regard to volunteering abroad.  Ages ago people were writing about how non-profits provide the best opportunities to volunteer abroad because they are, well, non-profit.  The for-profits wrote that the notion of tax status has nothing to do with good works.

Then we had Bloggers writing about NGOs vs. "middle men" sending organizations.  Those who find sending organizations "distasteful" encourage teens to find an NGO and research them and cut out the "middle man," while sending organizations site their benefits of doing the research and the risk management.  [I am a father of four and frankly, I don't trust any research they would do when it comes to vetting an NGO.]

Now we're seeing posts complaining about hoards of volunteers descending upon a struggling community and ruining it.  Those complaints normally come from people in the Aid and/or Development sector.  Or people who think they are.

Photo of a large group of rubber ducks in water.I commented on someone's Blog a few days ago and suggested that it's time to call Voluntourism what it is.  VolunTOURISM.  Bloggers need to stop generalizing about volunteering abroad.  Site a specific example if you wish, but stop the generalizations.  It reminds me of the local sandbox. "If you don't play the game I want you to play then I'm taking my toys and going home."   All the while there is a parent standing there saying to herself, "PLEASE take your toys and go home."

On this Blog, we have over on the right, a list of Blogs we find fascinating.  Over there, on the right towards the top.  See it?  A box entitled, "Blogs We Are Reading Right Now."  We don't agree with all of them, but we think you should check them out.  These are thoughtful writers with strong opinions with a massive following.  I have no issue with anyone writing a Blog post pointing out potential negative effects of volunteering abroad.  But I DO take issue with writers generalizing about it.  

Many people agree that George Bush "senior" lost his reelection bid because he forgot, "It's the economy, stupid."   I'm reading a lot of interesting Blog posts these days and I'm thinking to myself, "It's volunTOURISM."  PLEASE, stop trying to make it about Aid.  It isn't.  And it doesn't pretend to be.  And if and when it does...call people out.  Or if you don't, at least be specific.

Over at Voluntourism.org, Voluntourism is defined, "The conscious, seamlessly integrated combination of voluntary service to a destination and the best, traditional elements of travel — arts, culture, geography, history and recreation — in that destination."

Photo of one rubber duck looking this way.
In other words, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck it's a volunTOURIST.  Are members of the Peace Corps voluntourists?  Personally, I would answer "no."  Are voluntourists on a program of Aid or Development?  My personal view is, "no."  And if senders of voluntourists can make this distinction, and more importantly, if the voluntourists themselves can make the distinction, then why can't many Blog writers?

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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