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Volunteer Abroad and Feel Fabulous Body and Soul. Seriously?

Posted by Randy LeGrant | Jul 21, 2011 9:04:00 AM

I received this article about Sandals Resorts moving into the Voluntourism sector.  They do this by offering a 2-hour Reading Road Trip every Thursday from 09:00 until 11:00 when schools are in session.

In other words, you can go to a Sandals Resort and sign up (for $20 extra) to be taken to a school and "guests will be invited to engage small groups of children in active reading strategies."   Mercifully, "facilitators will be on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children."

Happy handsHere at GeoVisions, we invented the Conversation Corps, and because we're committed to language, communication and cultural exchange, I have a few questions I'd love to see answered by someone at Sandals, please:

1.  This is for real?
2.  How do you teach kids to read in 2 hours? (Because if you can, I want to know about it.  As a former high school and college English instructor, I find this a fascinating breakthrough.)
3.  If you need facilitators on hand to guide participants on how to engage and encourage children, I'm assuming you're using unskilled volunteers to teach reading in those 2 hours...each week (not daily).
4.  Do the people who go to a Sandals resort think they can actually teach kids in Jamaica, Turks & Caicos, the Bahamas, Antigua, and Saint Lucia reading strategies in 2 hours, once a week?  And because of this "voluntourism program", do they truly leave your resorts feeling "fabulous -- body and soul?"

Because in the article, Adam Stewart is quoted as saying, “I expect guests who participate will leave our resorts feeling fabulous – body and soul.”

It's 2 hours.  On Thursdays, Dude.

Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

"Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco announces the introduction of a new 'voluntourism' program that offers guests the opportunity to give back to the San Francisco community this summer. Beginning on May 17, guests who book the Bed and Breakfast package are encouraged to help pack care packages for women and children seeking refuge at the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco’s Riley Center, a nonprofit community organization dedicated to providing safe and confidential services for women in abusive relationships."

I cannot imagine it, but as the article reads, here is how the Four Seasons defines Voluntourism:  "A Care Package Kit will be provided to guests to assemble a bag for women and children at the Riley Center. Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will provide inclusions for the kits including toothbrushes, toothpaste and toiletries. Guests will also receive a map of locations to purchase their own Care Package inclusions should they choose. For a personal touch, each guest may include an inspirational note or personalized bookmark. Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco will deliver assembled bags to the Riley Center on a regular basis."

lots of colorful hands in the airAs with Sandals, I have a few questions for the Four Seasons:

1.  Packing bags is voluntourism?
2.  How many women who are homeless, in danger, trying to flee abusive relationships are REALLY going to want to read an inspirational note (or use a personalized bookmark from a stranger) and from someone who can afford to stay at the Four Seasons?
3.  Can the guests deliver the care kit to the Riley Center?  The article reads that the guests assemble these packs at the hotel and then the hotel STAFF delivers the pack to the Riley Center.  Am I reading that correctly?  Where is the cultural immersion?  Am I missing something?
4.  What are the guests learning about homelessness in San Francisco?  What are they learning about abusive relationships and how, perhaps, they can go home and help in their local community?

Crystal Cruises Sets New Voluntourism Excursions for Fall New England, Canada, and Caribbean Sailings

LOS ANGELES, July 11, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- "Volunteer opportunities are offered gratis on every 2011 sailing, giving guests and crew an easy, hands-on way to "give back" to local communities, while simultaneously providing an alternative cultural perspective to traditional shore excursions."

"Participants may assist four aid organizations on five east coast Crystal Symphony voyages:

    Cradles to Crayons (9/16 and 10/8—Boston): Prepare vital winter items for homeless/low-income children, from schoolbags to warm coats and shoes.
    Romero House (9/30—St. John, New Brunswick): Provide kitchen aid for a housing community that assists less-fortunate locals and resettling refugees.
    Feed Nova Scotia (10/20—Halifax): Help food bank preparation/distribution.
    Donkey Sanctuary at the Antigua & Barbuda Humane Society (10/31—Antigua): Feed, clean, or walk the shelter's stray donkeys, dogs and cats."

"Launched in January, 2011, Crystal's 'You Care, We Care' program has been widely recognized as a trailblazing effort for socially responsible tourism."

Dear Crystal Cruises:  Trailblazing effort for socially responsible tourism?  Are you out of your minds?  Seriously...this is NOT trailblazing.  It's piling on.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest Crystal Cruises, The Four Seasons San Francisco and Sandals are using the term voluntourism because they have the misguided idea that is "the thing" to do.  In reality, they are misusing the word.

Guyvolunteer imagess...there are so many voluntourists out there going abroad for weeks and months doing sustainable work in communities and on projects and in some cases risking life and limb.  To use the Voluntourism catch phrase for what you're doing does an incredible disservice to so many thousands of selfless voluntourists.

If you feel I'm being too harsh, and if you feel like I'm being unfair...we have a comment section below and I would love for someone to prove me wrong.  Help me out here.

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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