When done right, ‘volun-tourism’, or volunteer tourism, can be rewarding for both travellers and the local community.
For a quick explanation, volunteer tourism refers to the contribution of sustainable development while on vacation. The simple answer to how you can make a difference overseas includes volunteering on a social project, be it helping out at a wildlife conservation or teaching at a school. Despite the many options, it is important that you choose a reputable organisation that allows you to help out responsibly.
The key is to ask plenty of questions about the company’s past and present projects, says Saul Greenland, marketing manager at specialist tour operator Viva Expeditions. “Any truly responsible organisation will take the time to answer these questions and put you in touch with former volunteers so you can learn more,” he explains.
According to Georgina Davies, Communications Manager at sustainable-tourism charity The Travel Foundation, you should check if the host community is fully involved with the project and if it reflects the community’s real needs. “The idea that by digging wells in Africa, volunteers are driving positive change for a community, could be misleading,” says Zach Vanasse, Program Manager at The Treadright Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that supports sustainable tourism. “Africa has quite a lot of unskilled labour and the community could actually benefit from the employment opportunities that digging those wells would create.”
Most projects fall into one of three categories: Animals, people and habitats. Pick one, then narrow your options with some honest self-enquiry: How much time can you spare? How hands-on would you like to be? Can you rough it out in a village hut with no hot water? Then, find placements where your expertise can support the permanent staff.
Preferences aside, do be wary of projects with no end goals, as well as those that make extravagant claims with regards to short-term volunteer stints. Steer clear of orphanages, as volunteers coming and going can be detrimental to the welfare of vulnerable children. Also, choose animal projects carefully; avoid places where you can have your photograph taken with a wild animal, or where they are made to give rides or perform. Before your trip, research the culture, and find out about dress codes and etiquette. Understanding the locals allows you to properly communicate with them and thus, provide effective assistance.
By Hannah Stuart-Leach, Luxury Insider / Additional Reporting: Sandhya Mahadevan, October 2018
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