Evaluation of Voluntourism
A trend has started in the recent years, where people participate in organizations that commonly claim to be helping developing countries. This trend is fuelled by the gap year phenomenon, which is defined as “a period of time between 3 and 24 months taken out of education or a work career.” (Jones, 2004) With enthusiasm of “making a difference”, more and more people choose voluntourism, combination of tourism and volunteer projects, as their gap year holiday option. Despite the well-intended enthusiasm, opinions regarding the contribution of voluntourism on local community are divided. The primary issue of debate is whether voluntourism provide help to the local communities. While some researchers using surveys find local people satisfied with volunteer tourists, other research investigating quality, tasks, motivation and local need of voluntourism have found it doing more harm than good. Such a harmful trend has made the UK director of VSO, one of the baggiest and earliest international development charity, warn “Young people want to make difference through volunteering, but they would better off travelling…rather than wasting time on projects that have no impact…” (Ward, 2007) In this paper, we will evaluate both side of the debate and carefully assess the value of voluntourism for local community. In order to assess the benefit given by volunteer tourists, it is essential to look at the quality of the helpers. Unskilled volunteers may be a burden to local communities that have to take care of them. As Stephan peck, operations director at the Scout Association, puts it “[bad volunteers] are like a cancer” (Ainsworth, 2012). Therefore, the volunteer selection process is critical in recruiting needed and appropriate volunteers that benefit local communities. While supporters of voluntourism claims those volunteers as satisfying, looking into their selection experience shall make it clear that these tourists are hardly qualified as helpful volunteers. Research done by Richard Forsythe in Ghana vlountourism showed that only 36% of all studied volunteer applicants in various fields went through application process more complicated than filling application forms, and “no individuals remarked upon the selection process as a particularly challenging experience, and indeed several of the organizations interviewed admitted to accepting ‘almost all volunteers’ having ‘very few requirements, and taking ‘anyone who is interested’”(Forsythe, 2011). Recruitment through application forms or basic information can only depend on the self-evaluation of applicants, who probably had no volunteering experience, as to whether they will be helpful to the local community. With such a lenient selection, the volunteers selected are much more likely to be burden than help to local volunteers and community who cry out: “A lot of people have very unrealistic expectations about overseas volunteering, and they want to be there for only a month or less and have no skills that are critically needed in the developing world” (Huang, 2012). People may expect those unqualified volunteers to receive some training before starting work, but research has also showed that volunteer tourists receive almost no training. When they do receive information, much of it is about the culture and language, safety and packing with little attention toward the skills and duties involved within the volunteer placements (Forsythe, 2011). Furthermore, no more than half the volunteers received supervision or guidance during the placement (Forsythe, 2011). The organization’s local presence is indispensible for placements’ appropriate, long-term effectiveness and safety of volunteers. With the growing number of teenagers participating in volunteer tours, supervision and protection by organization are vital. However, some volunteers set out with enthusiastic motivation ends up in a awkward situation as Hannah Saunders, a gap year volunteer: “When I...
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