Cynthia really tried to capture the essence of a volunteer vacation in her article below, we talked a lot during the whole process and I think its a great summary of voluntourism. To read the full article have a look at:
Every so often I look out my cubicle window at all the skyscrapers and think, How did I end up in corporate America? Wasn’t I going to save the world? It might be too late for that (besides, I like my husband and my comfy house), but maybe not for a new kind of vacation I’d heard about, where you do a mini Peace Corps–type stint—as short as a week, as long as a year—and even get to have some fun. After a little research, I called an agency named Global Vision International and signed up for two weeks in Guatemala.
“Stovers and teachers, up to the terrace,” said our group leader, a charismatic Owen Wilson look-alike. All 15 of us were gathering at the staff house, a typical expat flat with tiled floors and scrounged furniture. A British computer programmer who’d already been there for six weeks led me upstairs, where I was introduced to an airline executive from Los Angeles and a middle-school teacher from Nevada. Local hosts were putting us up in Antigua; each morning, we’d be driven to the villages to help the Maya, who make up a majority of the country’s population, and who, in many communities, have an illiteracy rate of 80 percent and earn about $1 a day.
The women cook on open fires in the middle of their small bamboo-and-cane huts. Not only is the smoke extremely carcinogenic, but kids sometimes fall into the flames.
For our jobs, we got to choose between teaching Spanish to Mayan children or building stoves. Choosing the latter was a no-brainer (and not just because I don’t speak Spanish well). A stove, which pipes the cancer-causing smoke out of the hut, can add 15 years to family members’ lives and cut firewood usage by 70 percent, saving tons of trees in an area that’s rapidly being deforested. Figuring out how I felt about the rest of my situation was more complicated. The thing I like about traveling is what Spalding Gray called the “perfect moment”—that sudden feeling you sometimes get on a trip when you are so alive, so at one with the universe, that you can go home knowing the possibility of perfection is out there. Would I get it from being in homes so devastatingly different from my own? Or would I simply feel guilty about my fat-cat First-World life?