Here is another interesting article from last week, “Does Voluntourism do more harm than good?” which appeared on the Travelmole website and in the Vision on Sustainable Tourism newsletter. Gopi Parayil gives a local perspective on the dangers of volunteer tourism and argues for local solutions by for example volunteering in your own community. Although I am not sure I agree with the main argument in this article, that volunteer tourists can’t be of use in developing countries or are potentially holding these countries back, I do think the article makes some interesting points about the expectations of volunteers and what they can achieve.
Gopi also presents an example of a network of palliative care clinics which are run by local volunteers in Kerala. The project also hosts international volunteers but the emphasis is on them learning from the local people and taking that knowledge home with them and using it in their country. This idea of an exchange of ideas is something that I think is central to volunteering and contributes to making volunteers global citizens who can return home from their time overseas and raise awareness of other countries and cultures. And what they are sharing is not the negative perspective of “these people are so poor and need our help” but more “look how they do it there, we could do it more like that”.
I also really appreciated the comment “They wouldn’t expect a bunch of us Indians to come over on holiday to ‘fix their problems’…” in relation to European countries having their share of issues! Turning volunteering on its head like that is a good reality check. Interestingly, VSO ran a programme called Global Exchange where a group of young volunteers from the UK were teamed up with volunteers from a developing country and they would all spend 3 months volunteering as a team in each of their countries, working in a deprived area of the UK and in the developing country. This is a good example of how two cultures can learn from each other and of how volunteering projects don’t have to be about people from the global north going to the south and sorting out their problems.