Short-term & luxury hotel – is this responsible voluntourism?

By Sallie Grayson. Filed in project news  |  
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When it comes to banging on about responsible volunteering – we at people and places are out there at the front of the demos!

One of the hottest topics of debate ( this article in The Guardian and the ensuing comments is but one example) is whether or not short-term volunteering mixed with a holiday –  ‘voluntourism’ – is responsible. We think it’s controversial too – and so it should be!

In the midst of this current controversy, we are proud to announce the latest SHORT TERM VOLUNTOURISM trip with ITC Giving in St Lucia – where travellers will visit and work with a  project supporting marginalised youth.

graduation

For us responsibility is simple – is it a win for visitor and community alike? If  not, it’s not responsible in our book. So –

It’s not with the fully informed consent of the community ? Not responsible
Safety of volunteer and community not a priority? Not responsible
Working instead of not with local people? Not responsible
Smoke and mirrors about how volunteers money is spent? Not responsible
Local communities subsidising volunteers? Not responsible

Some will argue that we should add:
You can only give  a week? –  not responsible!
You want to stay in a fancy hotel?  –  not responsible!

WE DISAGREE – IT CAN BE RESPONSIBLE!

It is down to us, the gatekeepers, to ensure that every volunteer or “voluntour” trip is responsible.
It’s down to us to guide potential voluntourists in the realities of what can and cannot be achieved in the time they have to give.

Will someone please explain to me why someone who enjoys and can afford the comfort of a luxury hotel and chooses to turn left as they enter the plane cannot be a responsible volunteer? I know their hotel may use too much water or not purchase locally – but a homestay may well have a sewage system that evacuates directly into the nearest source of drinking or bathing water or  be in a community that practices female genital mutilation – it’s complicated stuff this responsibility!!!

So Keep It Simple Stupid – for us volunteering must be a win-win situation for visitor and community – we will not ignore our core values of transparency and mutual respect – and we are so pleased that ITC has the courage and vision to work with us on this challenging programme. We have so much to learn together – and the most important teachers will be our local host communities.

2 Comments

  1. Comment by Ron Mader:

    Sallie, I agree 100%.

    I would add that if we take our game up a notch, we improve the opportunities for engagement among locals and visitors. If a visitor can volunteer for 1 hour or 1 day or 1 year, what’s vital is that the opportunities are explained to the satisfaction of local and visitor alike. Otherwise you’re spending your time managing the expectations that are never quite met.

    Sallie, you and other organizers of volunteer programs have the opportunity (and responsibility) of creating something that is more than a one-off meeting. No doubt your new partnership will indeed result in a win-win if everyone shares the core values of transparency and mutual respect. Talking with Michael Kaye last week he said he had been asked what locals being visited deserve. His answer: respect. And what do you visitors deserve? Respect.

    Mind you, it’s quite the aspiration to conceive and journey toward such a high-trust environment. Lead on and inspire us!

  2. Comment by Sallie:

    You are so right Ron – RESPECT – that has to be the starting point – for local communities and volunteers.
    An important part of respect is listening – we work really hard to listen to the communities and the volunteers we work with.
    We spend a lot of time making sure we have the information we need to introduce the communities and the volunteers to eachother.
    Not always easy.
    Often communities find it very difficult to collect and process the information we need – or worse still give us the answers they think we want to hear! We ask potential volunteers for a huge amount of information about themselves – quite a big up front investment in time – but this information is essential if we are to ensure a good match between volunteer and community – We ask for this information from all volunteers- including those that are only travelling with us for a week –
    We ask for a lot of information from the volunteers when they return too – all commit to writing a detailed report of their experience on their return – and we in turn share this information with the communities and the future volunteers.

    We don’t get it right all the time

    – some volunteers say that we give them too much information and this results in confusion – others say they need more and they could have been better prepared.
    – keeping track of the dynamics within communities and projects is a challenge that we have to paddle really hard at – and even with the support of local partners who work closely with the projects – occasionally the information is just plain wrong.

    – – our biggest failure to date – and one I, together with our local partners, am working hard on to put right – we have real problems getting feedback on individual volunteer placements from the communities themselves – I think this is for two reasons.
    1. Pressure of time
    2. A reluctance to judge or criticise honoured guests

    and finally – managing expectation – when people ask me what the toughest part of my job is – my answer is “managing expectation” – I don’t expect(!) that to change anytime soon!

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