Travelling abroad for volunteering vs. ethical issues
30 August 2007
by Jen Marsden

New Consumer, a UK-based online magazine for "ethical lifestyle, has asked key leaders in the traveling and volunteering industries for their opinion on the ethical issues vs. travelling abroad for overseas volunteering and holidays.

Phil Murray,
There is much ambiguity about the ethical issues involved in travelling responsibly around the world and the extent to which companies have used the expressions ‘eco’, ‘sustainable’, ‘fair’ etc as part of their marketing plan. Concerns about 'Voluntourism' (short term volunteering on projects) not being sustainable or not sufficiently involving the local community, are justifiable.  It is linked to the 'benefit balance' - who should benefit most, the volunteer or the receiving organisation?  This debate has raised significant questions, but should not deter willing volunteers for whom their first short-term experience could lead to a life-time of meaningful volunteering.

Tricia Barnett, Tourism Concern

Taking a Gap Year is an extraordinary phenomenon. STA Travel alone will be helping about 150,000 people with their travel arrangements, and estimate that 230,000 18-24 year olds take a big trip each year.  And the market is growing.  Because Tourism Concern believes that local communities should both get the help they genuinely need and that volunteers should be properly trained to do it, it bothered us to find out that of the 54 companies responding to our questionnaire (out of a total of 74) almost a third never even met with the volunteers before they went and 27 percent failed to offer any sort of pre-departure training or induction.

When you go to into a completely strange environment and probably don’t know the language and might be feeling really anxious about it, then understanding something about cultural norms, the politics and history of the country, understanding how best to behave, understanding the relationship between men and women, and understanding some of the language can make a crucial difference to your experience.Katie Fewings, Responsible Tourism AwardsMany of us like the idea of ‘doing something worthwhile’ during our gap year. Of course if volunteering involves travelling to some of the most beautiful parts of the world then so much the better! We volunteer in the knowledge that as well as making a difference where it is needed most we will also discover new things about ourselves, and that pitching in together with like minded people is a great way to meet new friends. It’s important that you choose your volunteering organisation carefully. Our advice would be to ask to see detailed reports on the effectiveness of the projects before you travel, and to ask how local people are involved in the decision making processes.  Edward Abbey said 'sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul'.

© New Consumer

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