Priscilla Macy of Global Sojourns recently sent me this essay with her reflection on the sustainability of short term voluntourism, let’s start a discussion on this – use the comments section, what do you think??
Instead of offering purely educational trips, I’ve chosen to focus on offering adventure travel and to weave in experiences that help the traveler “go deeper” in their understanding of the areas visited. With the average time spent on these trips being 11 days and with clients’ priority being the wildlife experience, it’s a challenge to come up with opportunities to help them connect with locals and experience life outside the game parks.
Spending ½ – 3 days volunteering could be a great way for them to connect with locals and learn about the issues facing the area. I’d like to say that this would also be a great way for them to “give back” but, I’m not sure how sincerely this term can be applied to such short-term volunteering. It’s used in a lot of marketing materials but my guess is that their tourism dollars spent supporting national parks and the local economy do more to contribute to the local communities and environment than their labors on a project would contribute.
Having lived in sub-Saharan Africa for over seven years working in international development and then tourism, and having spent three of those years living in rural Mozambique conducting cultural anthropological research, I’m both highly motivated to help my clients go beyond the safari experience and… very skeptical about how to do this while keeping the experience “real” and being respective of the local people. I’m having trouble getting over my skepticism and finding ½ – 3 day volunteer opportunities that are truly beneficial to both the local community and the traveler.
I never underestimate the power of increasing ones understanding of a place and of sincere connections between people. So far our approach has been to offer learning and experiential opportunities (e.g. sharing a meal and conversations with locals, special programs that teach about wildlife behavior, visits to NGOs) but I also would like to try and find responsible, appropriate volunteer opportunities to offer to clients. Do they exist? I welcome your suggestions!
To send Priscilla suggestions please email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org