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Volume 9 Issue 4 Highlights

Save Vernazza Participant


SAVE VERNAZZA: Voluntourism in the Aftermath of Disaster in the Developed World

For this issue, we turn to Vernazza, Italy, to converse with Ruth Manfredi and Michelle Lilly, co-founders of Save Vernazza. In 2013, Save Vernazza launched as "Turisti nei Cia'n" ("Tourists in our Territory"), hosting 314 voluntourists, engaging 16 landowners, and creating 5 part-time jobs for local women serving as bi-lingual guides and cooks. Projects focused on supporting local farmers in recovering from the October 2011 mudslides that impacted the region. As natural disasters challenge every destination in the world, it is important for the developed world to have a model of how the time, talent, and treasure of travelers can be harnessed through voluntourism. The Ladies of Save Vernazza provide us with insights in this issue's 3-Q's.

Question 1:

1) What prompted you to start SAVE VERNAZZA as a voluntourism program?

Save Vernazza is an Italian non-profit organization created by three American women in response to the natural disaster that devastated Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy on October 25, 2011.  Our mission is to raise awareness and to rebuild, restore, and preserve Vernazza’s town and territory.  Our projects aim to transform the disaster into an opportunity to build a better future. 

314 travelers joined Save Vernazza’s 36 Voluntourism Excursions in our inaugural season from May through October 2013.  Busabout (hop-on, hop-off buses throughout Europe) and TreadRight Foundation (non-profit working to support sustainable tourism) contacted Save Vernazza after hearing about the disastrous floods because they wanted to find a way to give back to the community of Vernazza.  After 8 months of preparations, SV Voluntourism was the result.

People love the voluntourism experience, since it enables them to get off the beaten path and do something unique in Vernazza.  Voluntourists take a trip into the heart of Vernazza with a local, bilingual guide, make a difference by working alongside landowners and share a picnic lunch of local specialties and Cinque Terre DOC wine.  It offers a unique way for visitors to enter into full-immersion contact with Vernazza’s people, heritage and culture, have fun and preserve the territory (because “even paradise needs a gardener” – the program’s motto.)

Landowners are equally enthusiastic:  SV has helped 16 different landowners, with excursions returning 1-10 times, to harvest grapes, rebuild terracing and stonewalls (for which Vernazza and the Cinque Terre have been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO), restore olive groves and cultivate vineyards.

Save Vernazza Group

Question 2:

2) Based on your experience following the devastation to Vernazza, what kind of timeline of adopting voluntourism would you recommend for other places which might experience a natural disaster, say, the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan)?

Voluntourism is possible ONLY after the emergency phase has passed and the situation is stable enough to start thinking about rebuilding or restoration projects.  For us, Voluntourism is sustainable tourism.  Our participants are tourists who give their time to help with projects in our territory therefore the situation needs to be hospitable for tourists to arrive, stay and learn without worrying about their own personal safety or security.

Starting small and slow and achieving success has worked for us.  We do NOT offer housing or organize any part of the voluntourists’ trip because it is an enormous undertaking (although we are starting to consider it for 2014).  In Vernazza, we are fortunate to be located in the Cinque Terre National Park, which has approximately 2 million visitors per year.  We meet voluntourists in Vernazza at 7:30am and spend the morning learning and working together then finish with a picnic lunch.  Participants love feeling like they can truly make a difference in Vernazza and tell us that Save Vernazza Voluntourism is the highlight of their trip!

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Save Vernazza 6650

Question 3:

3) When you look at the response of community residents to voluntourists coming in to help the community of Vernazza, what do you think are the most important roles that voluntourists play in the eyes of the local community?

Voluntourists make the project a success by working to maintain Vernazza’s territory.  Landowners and tourists working side by side were able to open the eyes of the entire community to become living proof that sustainable tourism is possible.  Voluntourism creates a mutually beneficial environment: we invite interested tourists into our vineyards and olive groves and share our culture and they help us to keep our territory alive.

Voluntourism is encouraging landowners to see the value in continuing to cultivate their land.  Maintaining the territory is critical to avoid further erosion and to prevent additional landslides (which threaten the safety of the town).  Introducing tourists as volunteers has already encouraged some of the younger generation of Vernazzans to look at cultivated or abandoned land as a “fertile terrain” for building additional tourist-based businesses.  Finally, the project has created part-time jobs for 5 Vernazza women as bilingual guides and cooks.


Ruth Manfredi and Michelle Lilley - Co-founders of Save Vernazza Voluntourism Program

Ruth Manfredi Michelle Lilly

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