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GeoVisions Blog

Participant Stories

Is Voluntourism Really A Compromised Industry?

On 24 November, cnngo.com ran an article by Richard Stupart entitled " Voluntourism does more harm than good."  The tag line read, "Orphan-huggers create a market for orphans; well-builders take work from locals; and other things ethical travelers should know." I'm going to approach Mr. Stupart's article from two perspectives: He's right. But the focus really should be on "The result has been a boom in tour companies offering voluntourism opportunities in a wide range of destinations, catering to all levels of commitment." I have noticed that everyone is cashing in on Voluntourism (including the press) and I wish some great writer out there would do an article on the damage THAT causes.  Bugger the "goodie-two-shoes" articles. Those people are just there and will insert themselves into a situation abroad and at home because they simply have nothing else to do.  Resorts, cruise lines and hotels offer 2-3 hour voluntourism projects and call it sustainable tourism. Mr. Stupart sums it up nicely and as accurately as I've ever seen it put.  "There can be no easy decisions when attempting to weigh up how to volunteer, or whether to volunteer at all.  Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between ill-considered decisions taken for the purpose of stroking a traveler's ego, and subjective decisions to volunteer after properly considering as much of the moral and practical detail of your engagement as possible." For quite sometime, GeoVisions has provided a document, "Where Does My Money Go" in answer to that exact question by some of our volunteers.  And on many of our program pages, we actually provide a list of items that get paid with a volunteer's money.  This activity came with trying to be "all things transparent." How wonderful would it be if all of the responsible voluntourism providers (really, there are a few) wrote their own document explaining why volunteers participate on their projects and precisely (measured objectively) what good comes from it. How will your work be more beneficial than sending money? If you and your friends invested money in a project abroad (after doing research and interviewing project directors), would that be more sustainable? On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest, how much of wanting to go abroad is all about your ego?  Or that you had horrible parents? Why aren't you voluntouring in your own country? Why are you taking a tax deduction on volunteering abroad? Why aren't you spending money in your own country, and giving up the tax deduction to pay your fair share? How much research did you do about where you're going and why you should even be there? Those are questions we have been asking ourselves here at GeoVisions over the last year.  And what are the answers? 
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Volunteer And Choose To Make A Difference With Civic Responsibility

GeoVisions is proud to present this guest post by Karen Middleton, President of Emerge America, a premier training program for Democratic women. Karen also served as a Democratic Representative for the state of Colorado and was on three committees - House Education, Business Affairs and Labor, and the Legislative Council.
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Volunteering Abroad Didn't Work Out: How Do You Do The Right Thing?

I watched a TED talk today by Barry Schwartz.  I was so taken with Mr. Schwartz and the subject of "doing the right thing" that I'm embedding the video at the bottom of this post.  If you have 20 minutes to watch, please do. What got my mind racing at the outset of Professor Schwartz' talk was the description of measuring a round column in relation to "rules." If you think about it, it is impossible to measure a round column using a ruler.  So to solve the problem, the Greeks fashioned a ruler that bends.  (Yeah...you can already see where Schwartz is going with this one...) A tape measure.  A flexible rule.  A rule that bends.  Aristotle saw that to measure a round column, they needed to design a ruler that could bend and later he equated that with dealing with people.  Often times we need to bend the rules.  In dealing with others, many times to be successful we need to improvise.  But a wise person bends the rules and improvises for the right aims.  Schwartz goes on to say, "If you are a person who bends the rules and improvises to serve yourself, what you get is ruthless manipulation of other people.  So it matters that you do this in the service of others and not in the service of yourself." Most of us think institutions, and for that matter most people, don't really have our best interests at heart.   We mistrust organizations and other people more today than ever before.  My physician needs to see a patient every 11 minutes.  How can he get to know me in that amount of time?  My bank needs to cut their risk, so along with thousands of other consumers, they decrease my credit line without calling me to sit down and talk about it and inquire about my needs.  Teachers, teaching for the test, can't or won't spend time with my kid to find out what he already knows and what skills he really needs to learn next month. Professor Schwartz reminds us that to deal with the economic crisis, we set up rules for bankers.  And to make certain no child is left behind, we set up rules for teachers to follow on how to educate all children.  We tend to react to a crisis or even criticism by setting up rules, or devising even more rules so that these things never happen again.  But that only adds fuel to the mistrust we have in organizations, because they are so busy enforcing the rules and inventing rules on how to enforce rules, there is little time to get to know the customer.  And we all know that like water, people will find the cracks in the rules.  The point of the TED talk is that rules and incentives don't work.  Practical wisdom works. In the Volunteer Abroad space, I have seen websites pop up that actually encourage people to write negative reviews of their volunteer project abroad.  Whether they went on that project or not!  It seems to be encouraged on those sites that the more negative you can be the better things will get.  I don't see any suggestions on using practical wisdom in making things better.  I do see many opportunities to make the problem worse.  And that only contributes to mistrust.  They are simply a depository of negativity. Schwartz concludes the talk with, "Rules and incentives don't tell you how to be a good friend, how to be a good parent, how to be a good spouse, or how to be a good doctor, a good lawyer or a good teacher.  Rules and incentives are no substitutes for wisdom.  In giving us the will and skill to do right thing, to do right by others, practical wisdom also gives us the will and the skill to do right by ourselves." I think the bottom line is this:  If the organization does right by you, it does right by itself.  If the organization does not do right by you, use wisdom in your next steps so that you do right for others, thereby doing right by yourself.  It's why we volunteer, isn't it?  We do right by others and therefore we do right by ourselves.
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Quack Like A Duck? Walk Like A Duck? It's VolunTOURISM!

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. 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." 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?
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Operation: Music Aid Is A Locally Grown Volunteer Organization

on Sat, Sep 04, 2010 By | Randy LeGrant | 0 Comments | Volunteer Locally
I really thought I might write about our new Conversation Corps-Nepal program in this post.  But something happened on the way to the computer. My 10 year old son is playing the sax in the school band.  We went to the Madison Music Center, very near where we live, and I was surprised by what I found there.  It's where Operation:Music Aid was founded…and the current headquarters. George Hauer is the owner of the Madison Music Center.  He's 71 years old and works 7 days a week.  The company is set back in an industrial park, actually, and while not hard to find…you have to be looking.  George is an amazing character and he not only supplies musical instruments along the Shoreline of CT but he's the co-founder of Operation: Music Aid. Operation: Music Aid was founded to supply guitars and keyboards to wounded military service personnel now in military hospitals for extended care.  They supply the instruments to the hospitals and they are distributed as needed to assist in physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as for morale. Their goal is to get an instrument to every one of our service men and women who have been injured while on assignment. All the instruments received at the hospitals become the property of the individual patients. Walking around George's music store is like walking around the Hard Rock Cafe without the loud music and videos.  Signed photos and musical instruments adorn the walls from supporters like David Crosby, Graham Nash, Jane Fonda, Petula Clark, American Idol's Katharine McPhee and others. If you're in the area, stop by and meet George.  Or check out Operation: Music Aid's website or simply email them for more information.  The first person who donates $100 to Operation Music Aid will receive a FREE Operation Music Aid T-Shirt.  On top of that, GeoVisions will match your gift up to $100 and we'll toss in a FREE Conversation Corps or Conversation Partner T-Shirt. Simply leave a comment below and let us know your name.  When we hear from Operation: Music Aid that they have received your donation, we'll send out both shirts to you.  Be sure you email us at programs@geovisions.org so we can get your shipping address. We also hope you will use the comment box below to tell us about volunteer organizations you know of locally, who are making a huge difference in people's lives.
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