Voluntourism – the new Peace Corps?

Voluntourism Volunteer Travel

Volunteer travel opportunities enhance your resumé, add another facet to your life-skills, in addition to being an all-round great experience.

But there’s a new buzzword – Voluntourism – what does it mean and how is it different from old-school voluntary work abroad?

The Voluntourism phenomenon

Is Voluntourism the new Peace Corps, or simply a new trend? Let’s take a closer look at the Voluntourism phenomenon. The broadsheets and internet are full of arguments for and against Voluntourism. Basically, volunteering abroad is something we are all familiar with. Years ago, one could explore the possibility of a year abroad, but only if you already possessed a skill such as teaching, nursing, or something practical such as carpentry. You could provide a positive impact within an impoverished community, addressing the three life basics:

  • Education
  • Sanitation
  • Health

Who’s doing it?

Today, however, there’s a new kid on the block. Today’s Voluntourism applicants wipe away any previous imagery of of sage, middle-aged, experienced and kindly folk, sent to instruct locals who – naturally – sit rapt at their teacher’s Birkenstock-clad feet. Voluntourism screams Gap Year, Twenty-something, selfies, smartphones and meaningful status updates on Facebook or Instagram. Getting a close up of your Converse on rich red African soil is so much more Insta-friendly than just posing on Fifth Avenue. Anyway, everyone’s doing it, aren’t they?

A face for the brand

Volunteer Travel, Voluntourism
That’s the issue the media portrays. Cool, rich, Millennial…and mainly white. Kids traveling the world living from a carry-on. Helping or hindering? Yes, it’s another trend. Blame social media, or blame the bank of Mom and Dad – open all hours! – which will doubtless finance the whole volunteer travel program. But hang on just a minute….are we getting too wrapped up in the righteous angle? Is it really all bad if Voluntourism – volunteering by any other name – is the latest thing? Perhaps not.

Crowd-sourcing and collaboration

Volunteer Travel
Voluntourism really can be the new Peace Corps. Appealing to that Millennial generation, this new trend, if that’s what it is, can be to everyone’s advantage. Yes, they’re the selfie-snapping social media darlings. That’s a good thing. Mainstream social media will ensure that poverty stricken backwaters and small projects will get get big coverage. These same projects will gain free marketing managers in the form of the Voluntourism kids. Instant updates, fundraising, great HD photos will be brought to the first world by the generation brought up by the internet. Bold attitudes and can-do approaches will shine and actually be an asset. Crowd-sourcing and collaboration making a vehicle such as Facebook and Instagram as important for profit as for lengthening your friends list.

A personal approach

As I write this article, I am weighing up the pros and the cons of Voluntourism on a personal level. Our seventeen year old has recently announced her imminent plans to volunteer in India. Skeptical, with an eye on our ethnic taste in interior design and taste for far-off places, I asked her why?

Because it’s better than sitting around with no job here – we live in mountainous, rural Spain – while I wait for my study course to start. I’m going to study Social Care anyway, so it’s a great foundation.

Okay, impressed so far, I glanced at the cost of these trips, not cheap by our standards. So, how will you finance it?

I get an inheritance starting from September anyway, I can use part of that to self-fund…

It was sounding good. Then in the next breath she asked for a GoPro camera for her birthday- I guess she’s a typical teen after all!

Will you decide to become a Volunteer?

Volunteer Travel
How about you? Would you swap your all-inclusive fortnight in the Bahamas for a Voluntourism trip? It’s a natural next-step for those of us that have decided to live a more sustainable lifestyle. We have ditched plastic as much as we can, we recycle, repair rather than replace. It makes sense to take vacations into consideration too.

There are several organizations that will handle it all for you, such as Projects Abroad. What do they say?

You can give back to communities in need, or protect endangered wildlife as you travel and volunteer with animals in stunning environments like rainforests.

There’s no guarantee, but it’s pretty much agreed you’ll return a changed person. You don’t have to be twenty-something either! Empowering a local community, enjoying a life-changing experience, creating change for generations to come, it’s all good. 

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About Carol Byrne 30 Articles
Originally from Dublin, Carol has also lived in London and Wales before settling in Spain with her husband and family in 2006, and is published regularly on travel and more from her mountain-top home in the picturesque foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Driven by a passion for travel, history, other cultures, and sustainable living, she enjoys life with her family in a traditional and tiny village. She also blogs about her traditional village life, sparked by a passion for the diverse culture and history of Spain.

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