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'Blue-Green' VolunTourism: The Ideal Starting Place

If you are the least bit curious about what your first step might be in regards to VolunTourism, then here is a piece of advice: Start Green, Or Blue.

When I use the term 'green,' I am mainly referring to land-based, environmental service projects and venues. When I use the term 'blue,' I am mainly referring to water-based, environmental service projects and venues. As a voluntourist, a tour operator, an NGO, or a community, there are numerous options available, in almost any destination, that afford direct connections to supporting the well-being of either of these environments. Why are these such good starting places?

  • The voluntary service activities, by nature, are often recurring
  • Voluntary service activities come in many varieties
  • Improved socio-cultural understanding of the interplay between residents and the local environment
  • Accessibility for virtually any skill level
  • Involvement of local residents in paid and unpaid roles
  • Financial flexibility
  • Clearly-defined goals & objectives
  • Education

Recurring Voluntary Service Activities

This is one of the most important features of 'Blue-Green' VolunTourism. Many of the environmental projects that have been identified by communities and NGOs across the globe have a recurring nature to them. They require ongoing support by volunteers and community residents in the form of maintenance. This is especially true with such things as hiking & walking trails, the removal of invasive species, or proliferation of indigenous seeds and flora.

Variety Of Service Options

Going 'green' or 'blue' really opens a wide vista of options for any voluntourism stakeholder. Citizen science, one of the quintessential representations of this genre of voluntourism, delivers value on many levels - - for example, a greater understanding of how to reduce human and animal conflict to ensure the survival of both. Other opportunities include: invasive species removal, agriculture and/or permaculture, proliferation and/or sustainability of indigenous species, economic diversification & sustainability for residents, environmental & ecosystem protection and long-term sustainability.

Improved Socio-Cultural Understanding of the Interplay Between Residents and the Local Environment

One of the biggest challenges for those who are unfamiliar with a destination is the interplay between cultures and the environment. Some of the most unique voluntary service opportunities around the world focus on this dynamic interplay. Local residents rely on animals or fish to sustain themselves; yet, the thought of killing sea turtles or other animals or fish is anathema to outsiders. Having the option to engage in projects that enable residents and wildlife to live harmoniously gives any voluntourist, for example, a chance to see the bigger picture in the context of their overall experience - truly invaluable.

Accessibility for Virtually Any Skill Level

Of course, voluntary service projects are not all equal. In the case of environmental projects, however, there is a greater possibility of fielding voluntary service activities that are accessible to all residents and voluntourists, regardless of their individual physical and/or mental capacities. This is essential if you want to have representative participation and 'ownership' from all stakeholders. Environmental projects can be designed accordingly, which is not always the case with other projects.

Involvement of Local Residents in Paid & UnPaid Roles

VolunTourism is more than just an opportunity for visitors to get involved in supporting the well-being of a given environment; it also serves to open doors for local residents to become involved in both paid & unpaid roles. Residents can be paid to interpret the local flora & fauna. They can be paid as guides or to oversee the work of voluntourists and local residents. They can be paid to raise seedlings that will eventually be planted by both residents and voluntourists alike. Conversely, on the unpaid side, residents can serve alongside voluntourists as volunteers - strengthening their own commitment to their local environment.

Financial Flexibility

'Blue-Green' volunteer projects can be done very inexpensively, in terms of investment in start-up costs as well as supplies, labor, and other budgetary expenditures. They can be designed to focus on the labor provided by residents and voluntourists as opposed to building physical structures that may require significant financial outlay for building materials & supplies as well as tools. 'Blue-Green' projects may also be supported by grants or other financial contributions from local community foundations or corporations that see great value in contributing to the environment.

Clearly-Defined Goals & Objectives

If there is one thing that our research at VolunTourism.org has taught us over the years, it is this: voluntary service projects are best when the goals & objectives are clearly defined for all involved and achievable. Blue-Green voluntourism projects are quite often developed with explicit, measurable outcomes - 'the task is complete when these things have occurred.' This is particularly important when involving any volunteer - be they a local resident or voluntourist. Even if a project is ongoing, or requires more than one group to fully accomplish the task, having achievable goals for each group is essential to nurturing the commitment of the volunteers and enabling them to feel a sense of accomplishment, which ultimately leads to an overall sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.

Education

Although this appears as the last item on the list, make no mistake as to the significance of its role. Voluntourism projects that include education have a lasting impact on all participants. Blue-Green voluntourism is ideally suited to meet the demand of voluntourists who, above all, want to 'learn something new.' Coming away with knowledge which was heretofore unknown is paramount for the voluntourist. A voluntourist's satisfaction with an experience is directly related to how they perceive the contribution they have made - "how did I make a difference" - and to how much they have learned as a result.

The education that comes simply from volunteering on Blue-Green voluntourism projects can be enhanced by consciously putting effort into such things as:

  • pre-trip information and materials,
  • during-trip interpretation & additional information, and
  • post-trip follow up as to how a given project has progressed following a voluntourist's departure (assuming, of course, that a given project is either recurring or requires additional effort to reach ultimate completion)

Final Thoughts

Blue-Green VolunTourism has so much potential; not to mention, the number of arguments against it, coupled with potential detractors of its viability, is likely to be far less than other options, particularly those focused on women & children. It also affords voluntourists a real opportunity to experience the destination in a more traditionally touristic manner. Scuba diving, for example, can serve a dual purpose - scientific research and recreation. Because of this, travelers may feel that payment for such experiences is very much within reason, as they can equate the experience with what they know of typical costs associated with recreational activities of a similar nature.

Blue-Green VolunTourism is accessible to most every community around the world. It can serve so many different purposes and can, in relatively short order, be developed holistically to support multiple stakeholders. It requires minimal, fiscal outlay. It has wondrous educational potential. And, it opens up vistas of opportunity to assist local tourism initiatives to generate additional income for local communities. In a world that is becoming more and more aware of the environment, Blue-Green VolunTourism has an incredibly bright future.

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