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The VolunTourist™ is a premium Newsletter for the Travel Trade. For those interested in discovering what is happening in the world of VolunTourism™ and seeking emerging practices, general information, and case studies, this is your Source.

Volume 6 Issue 1 Highlights

 

FEATURE ARTICLE 1

Destination Recovery & VolunTourism: What Did We Learn In Decade 1.0 That Can Be Applied In Haiti, And Now, Chile?

On 26 December 2004, a tsunami struck Southeast Asia. Eight months later, it was a hurricane versus the U.S. Gulf Coast. In 2008, a cyclone blasted Myanmar and an earthquake struck China. In the aftermath of each of these natural disasters, voluntourism, to varying degrees, has become one form of response. What have we learned about its applicability in these post-disaster environments? I connected with researchers and tourism industry professionals from around the world to gather their collective wisdom on the subject.

Introduction

Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and millions were displaced as a result of four natural disasters (the Southeast Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the Myanmar Cyclone, and the Chinese Earthquake) during the first decade of the third millennium.

In the aftermath of each of these events, travel & tourism industry professionals stepped forward to address these situations in a variety of ways. We will take a closer look at the research and practical, hands-on-trial-and-error that took place in these destinations in hopes that we may discover how to move forward in Haiti, and now, Chile.

The following individuals have generously contributed their insights for this article:

We'll start with my co-author for this piece, Nikki Bond.

Lessons Learned

  • In our experience, the immediate aftermath of a major disaster is not likely to be the best time to send unqualified voluntourists to an area.  At such times, financial aid, to responsible NGO’s may quite simply be the best support we can offer.
  • When the time is right to begin sending voluntourists, it is important that they do not over-burden what may still be a fragile infrastructure and a fairly minimal support system.  One way of overcoming this is to send small groups (as opposed to individuals), on pre-arranged dates planned to suit the organisation or project they will be assisting.
  • What can be achieved through voluntourism is likely to change once the initial recovery period is over but purpose can be maintained as long as a sustainable support system involving local people is established from the outset.

Insights From Nikki Bond, of Go Differently

[Please Note: this article is written from our (Go Differently) own experiences as a tour operator involved in voluntourism in South East Asia, before, during and after the Asian Tsunami 2004.  That is not to suggest that all disasters will necessarily raise the same issues or require exactly the same kind of response.]

Major disasters can make volunteers out of the most unlikely candidates.  When we hear the news of the latest earthquake or flood, especially (let’s be honest) if there is something that particularly touches our heart – a place, a memory, an image, anything which allows us to empathise with those affected… it’s a touching part of human nature that we immediately start to ask… what can I do to help?

And for those with the time, money and a sense of adventure, the second question is often… and how do I get there?

As an ethical tour operator already working with local communities and sending volunteers to carefully chosen projects in the area, these were the questions we were asked over and over again in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami in December 2004.  We suddenly found ourselves with tens, if not hundreds, of willing volunteers and of course, we ourselves desperately wanted to help (and in many ways, were extremely well-placed to do so) but it was still several months before we sent out our first voluntourism group to some of the worst-affected areas and a while longer before we were able to start sending individual travellers.

Why did we delay so long?  To explain that, it’s perhaps easiest to start by considering what happens in the immediate aftermath of a major tragedy, something we experienced and learnt from in the time after the tsunami.

Not surprisingly, in the first few days there was chaos… communications were virtually non-existent, people were utterly traumatised – desperately looking for loved ones, mourning those already known to be lost and in many cases, without even the most basic essentials – food, water and a place to live.

In such stark conditions, a very special kind of volunteer emerged.  Some of them would not even have seen themselves as volunteers at all… just people trying to help.  Some of them were locals (both Thai and Western expats) who were fortunate enough to be less seriously affected, some were simply holidaymakers and backpackers who found themselves caught up in an event, the horror of which few could ever have imagined as they set out on their vacations…  At that early stage, there were very few people in sufficient control to be able to tell others what to do; those who were there, just tried to do the best they could.  There was no shortage of willing hands but without any organisation, there was a limit to what they could achieve and whilst there was a need for healthcare workers and others experienced in disaster recovery, to send unqualified voluntourists at that time would have been nothing less than irresponsible.  Such visitors would have been a burden on the infrastructure that was already struggling to cope (many hotels and restaurants were closed, transport was fragmented) and with little or no guidance, as well meaning as their intentions undoubtedly were, it would have been all but impossible for them to have been of much practical help.

Our advice at that stage was simple… if you really want to help now, send financial aid… I am aware that for some this was disappointing news and I understood why.  There is absolutely nothing wrong in viewing one’s voluntourism trip as an exciting adventure, indeed, philanthropic motives aside, the experience itself is very much part of the reason so many of us want to get involved… but… this was not the time for such indulgences.

The second part of our advice was to try and make sure that the money you send goes to an organisation that will use it well.

As the days progressed, international aid agencies moved in and many smaller, grassroots organisations began to be established.  All were unquestionably well-meaning but it soon became clear that some were achieving their aims better than others.  One particular example of this which struck me was that many charities were requesting that donors should send clothes and other goods from overseas when many of these items were readily available in the country and there would have been a much greater benefit to the struggling local communities if the charities had simply had the money to purchase them locally.  (Note: this is obviously not always the case and depends on the nature of the disaster and the specific area affected.)

From the outset, the philosophy of what was initially a small group of volunteers gathered by a friend (then grew into North Andaman Tsunami Relief and latterly, Andaman Discoveries [see this issue's Supply Chain article]) was always one of working not only for but also with the local people.  The director, Bodhi Garrett, has gone into this in more detail in his own account but from our side, we immediately knew that this was a project (and a philosophy) we wanted to support. 

So was the time now right to start sending voluntourists?  At this stage, we were faced with a different kind of problem.  NATR was only a small organisation and all its longer-term volunteers were already working around the clock to provide direct assistance to the local communities. 

If we had started sending individual voluntourists immediately, a more permanent member of staff would have had to have been diverted from their relief work in order to provide support and guidance to the visitor and, particularly due to the short duration of most voluntourism trips, any assistance the visitor might have been able to provide would almost inevitably be offset.

As it happened, the answer was really quite simple.  The first voluntourists we sent travelled in groups on pre-agreed dates.  This meant that support required from the full-time staff was more than outweighed by what could be achieved by a small team and, knowing in advance when extra willing hands might be available, it was also possible to plan small building/clearing projects around the visit… which in turn, gave our groups a sense of achievement in knowing that they had helped to complete a specific task during their stay.

The third, phase of recovery (at least in terms of voluntourism) was reached when the local communities were sufficiently re-established to be able to receive homestay visitors, both as groups and as individuals.  As a key part of NATR’s overall plan, participating in such homestays allowed visitors to contribute not only as volunteers but also financially as paying guests.

Exactly, and I think that this group, in particular, stated that: 'We won't come back to New Orleans. We might come back to go see Mardi Gras; we might come back to do other things, but we won't come back to volunteer.'

And it wasn't that, you know, they were doing other things - this particular group, but this speaks to a lot of groups - they were doing something different every day, or every other day, and they weren't at the same house cleaning up the same house every day. And many groups wanted to see the project from start-to-finish, in a week. And with hundreds of thousands of homes being taken out with the water of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi (River), you can't complete that project in a week. And I think that frustrated a lot of voluntourists.

And I understand that frustration. You're here to help people, you're here to help people on the ground, and get them back in their homes. But it's such a bigger picture than that. And, yeah, it definitely caused issues for the voluntourism providers - it's hard for them to find activities where they could have a group complete something in a week.

Five years after the tsunami, the need for immediate relief work has long since passed but the infrastructure initially established by NATR (and latterly run by Andaman Discoveries) allows for continued support alongside the local communities which now thrive in their own right.  In particular, the village homestays continue to develop, offering a wide variety of opportunities to everyone from families looking to spend a few nights immersed in local culture, to those able to offer more practical assistance as volunteers and voluntourists hoping to experience a combination of the two.

So what lessons have we learnt?

  • In our experience, the immediate aftermath of a major disaster is not likely to be the best time to send unqualified voluntourists to an area.  At such times, financial aid, to responsible NGO’s may quite simply be the best support we can offer.
  • When the time is right to begin sending voluntourists, it is important that they do not over-burden what may still be a fragile infrastructure and a fairly minimal support system.  One way of overcoming this is to send small groups (as opposed to individuals), on pre-arranged dates planned to suit the organisation or project they will be assisting.
  • What can be achieved through voluntourism is likely to change once the initial recovery period is over but purpose can be maintained as long as a sustainable support system involving local people is established from the outset.

Insights From Bodhi Garrett, Founder of Andaman Discoveries

The story of Andaman Discoveries begins in the village of Ban Talae Nok. The natural beauty, the openness of the people, and the warmth of traditional Thai Muslim culture I experienced caused me to fall in love with the area. The tsunami had a devastating effect on Ban Talae Nok, killing 47 of 228 people, and washing half the village away.  Our first projects were emergency relief, but even with their basic needs met, most people had nothing to do and no savings. 

So, livelihood development became a priority.  As with all forms of community assistance, developing livelihoods tourism isn't just about a workshop, it is a range of efforts. By engaging a community on multiple levels, projects reinforce each other.  For example, the father of a local family may be part of the tourism group, the mother involved in the community center, and the kids helping with conservation projects.

Thus, our projects in Ban Talae Nok take place in the context of a development continuum, which evolved after the tsunami as follows:

•   Relief
•   Empowerment
•   Education
•   Training
•   Opportunity
•   Ongoing support

First on the continuum after relief is empowerment.  For example, we published the “Sense of Place” book – a description of the local way of life in the villagers’ own words.  The book, with plenty of color pictures, is meant to build pride in local culture, and has also served as a base for developing tourism activities. We also built community centers. These buildings create a space for exchange within the community and serve as a bridge to the outside world.  In Ban Talae Nok, our community center hosts daycare, senior programs, health workshops, government meetings, and aerobics classes.

After empowerment, we turned our attention education. Education was open to all community members, and we coordinated basic adult education course at the community center, helping adults learn how to read, write, and obtain their high-school diploma. We also provided scholarship stipends to children of the neediest families.

In addition to general education, we provided training. For those with interest and ability, we have provided opportunities for skill development in tourism. Our training style was not academic, and it relied heavily on local knowledge. We held an intensive, six-month vocational training with 26 community members that focused on Adventure, Community, and Eco Tourism. Specific topics included small business, community development, English, computers, and guiding. We also provided in-village English lessons to villagers involved in tourism and handicrafts.  We also produced easy-to-read handbooks for homestay hospitality, guiding, and simple English. Perhaps the most beneficial training came in the form of pilot tours…in which volunteers and brave guests helped the villagers develop their own style of hospitality.              

One of the most challenging steps has been creating ongoing opportunity. Without opportunities to use new skills, development efforts fail to have long term benefit. We started by doing relief projects FOR community members, then we progressed to development projects WITH community members, now we are assisting with projects led BY community members.  Recently, we have provided seed money for graduates of our training to lead their own projects, including orchid conservation, school lunches, and handicrafts.  This process is slow, and requires patience, but it is the only way to build effective local leadership. Marketing assistance is also critical to the success of most community tourism projects. To that end, Andaman Discoveries has provided a website, information center, brochures and media coverage.  It takes money to make money, and the cost of marketing is often an insurmountable barrier for community tourism.

There are some opportunities that cannot be developed in a short time, necessitating ongoing support.  Andaman Discoveries has served as a bridge between the communities and the outside world, for both communication and funding.  We put a lot of energy into making sure that locals and tourists can engage in cultural exchange, by providing a translator, and hosting frequent feedback sessions. We have found that voluntourism is a great way to promote communication – these service-minded tourists are truly open to principle of exchange, and willing to be patient when things don’t go according to plan.

Insights From Kirsten Van Der Meer, University of Victoria

For her master's thesis - "Perspectives On Ecotourism and Volunteer Tourism in Post Tsunami Khao Lak, Thailand," Kirsten van der Meer, MA, spent four months researching volunteer tourism in Thailand following the tsunami. In part of the conclusion of her thesis she writes:

Ms. van der Meer generously granted me an interview for this article. Here is an excerpt from our discussion:

David: Well, so let's talk about what were the characteristics that you discovered about these voluntourists that were there, things that really stood out for you. Because, as you can imagine, here they are, as you said, in a situation, even though it was a year removed from the actually disaster itself...

Ms. van der Meer: What I found is that the volunteer tourists that came to volunteer after the tsunami in Thailand were generally quite young and very well educated. Most of them had planned volunteering as the main reason of their trip. There was a mix of volunteers that came through churches and mission groups, that was about half of the sample. And others that were backpackers and kind of planned loosely to do some kind of volunteering, but weren't sure exactly what they were gonna do and were a bit more spontaneous about coming to the area, the specific area I was in.

So that's a basic profile. It's about half men, half women. A lot of the subsegments that were backpackers ended up staying for very long periods of time. So, a lot of them, about a quarter of them, stayed for more than three months in the same small area that I was doing my research in.

David: And I'm assuming that you had discussions beyond just filling out the survey that you had...

Ms. van der Meer: Right, yeah, I did some informal interviews with many of them, to learn a bit more about their motivations and their thoughts, their perspectives on the volunteer experience. So not all of that is in the thesis, but I did collect a lot of that information.

David: Well, of course, you know the question to ask is what was some of that information that you gathered, informally.

Ms. van der Meer: Well, I'd say all of the volunteers I spoke to came with really positive intentions to help. They came to the area because they thought, and they're probably fairly correct, that there was a lot of help needed in the area. And their intentions were to help. They weren't as forthcoming in their personal reasons. You know, volunteer literature states that people volunteer for intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, and so volunteers talked more about the 'helping others.' But, some mentioned that it was a good way to travel. It taught them about other cultures. It was inexpensive to stay in one place for a long period of time and rent a little apartment. So, there's clearly a combination of reasons why they wanted to volunteer in that area.

To hear the entire interview, please follow this link>>>

Insights From Jenn Erdely, Lousiana State University

Jenn Erdely has interviewed more than 50 voluntourists in the years since Hurricane Katrina as part of her ethnographic research to complete her dissertation at Louisiana State University. She is a resident of New Orleans and has interviewed local residents as well. She graciously agreed to speak with me about her research and answer my questions as part of the responses to be included in this article. Here are some excerpts from the conversation:

David: In turning back to our first question - - "In your research regarding voluntourism in New Orleans what have you discovered from your interviews with local residents as to the impact of voluntourism in the period following Hurricane Katrina?"

"But to look at it over the long period of time, I think there's three issues, depending upon the time sequence of the event.

The first one is: What is it you're going to do?

The second one is: What do you need to bring with you in terms of helping the people who have been impacted?

And the third one is: What can you expect in terms of how you are going to be accommodated?

Ms. Erdely: Well, I think like any situation you have a mixed impact. In some cases, the impact has been beneficial to residents. And I think in other ways, like your future question will ask about it requires more of a 'delicate handling' in some cases. I think that for the most part, based on my conversations with residents, there are some that are really getting the help that's needed and some people who, they had the money to hire contractors, but those contractors ripped them off and now they're having to rely on volunteer labor in order to complete their homes. And that's why, five years after the storm, they're still not back in their homes. I think you also have individuals who, they don't have any money to even purchase supplies.

And how voluntourism works in New Orleans is that the group - either the grassroots group or the religious groups, or whatever - will purchase table saws, generators - the larger construction materials, however, the residents have to purchase the flooring for their tiles, and nails, the paint, etc., etc. So some of these residents still don't even have the money to purchase sheetrock. And so, those folks are not getting the help that they need, even though they have people who are continually wanting to come down and help them to rebuild.

So, I think, in that case, we have some people who are getting the help that they need and other people who are not getting the help that they need; and some that are still deciding if they want to come back or not.

Later in our conversation, regarding the challenges for voluntourism providers...

David: ... If there's not that kind of flexibility within the groups that are coming down to do whatever it is that the local communities need and address the concerns that they have, that could be a real challenge for the voluntourism providers themselves.

Ms. Erdely: Exactly, and I think that this group, in particular, stated that: 'We won't come back to New Orleans. We might come back to go see Mardi Gras; we might come back to do other things, but we won't come back to volunteer.'

And it wasn't that, you know, they were doing other things - this particular group, but this speaks to a lot of groups - they were doing something different every day, or every other day, and they weren't at the same house cleaning up the same house every day. And many groups wanted to see the project from start-to-finish, in a week. And with hundreds of thousands of homes being taken out with the water of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi (River), you can't complete that project in a week. And I think that frustrated a lot of voluntourists. And I understand that frustration, you're here to help people, you're here to help people on the ground, and get them back in their homes. But it's such a bigger picture than that. And, yeah, it definitely caused issues for the voluntourism providers - it's hard for them to find activities where they could have a group complete something in a week.

To hear the entire interview, please follow this link>>>

Insights From Steve Richer, Former ED of the GulfCoast CVB

Reporting Information And Results of Activities

How should what is accomplished and/or not accomplished be shared? with whom?

In China, we need to be mindful of the amount of attention we bring to a specific project.  While we report some of our activities on our company's blog, most of the reporting we do is directly with the clients involved in the project. Because our voluntourism programs are project- focused, program fees for any given volunteer travel program generally only cover the work done during the length of the travel program. We make available to our clients, upon request, a breakdown of the project funding - how much money is going to the service project and how that money is being spent. And since the majority of our voluntourism programs focus on construction projects, photographs are an essential part of our follow-up reporting to our clients.

Some of you will remember a conversation that I had with Steve Richer, former Executive Director of the GulfCoast Convention & Visitors Bureau back in September 2007 regarding Relief VolunTourism in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:

"B

Insights From Marcia Selva, Global Spectrum & Global Community Service Foundation

I will start by what we did in Burma, because this offers a good example of great intentions by volunteers, but the government is reluctant to have the outside help. 

When the disaster hit, GCSF (Global Community Service Foundation) solicited donations.  Once we knew how much money we had to work with, we had our in-country staff do the assessment of what area we would help in and what their needs were. Initially we funded some food, medicine, access to drinking water and temporary shelter. Then we began to focus on recovery:  family homes, bridges, schools, clinics, and are still doing so today. Burma is a bit difficult as non-Burmese were not welcomed by the government - so in the end our Burmese staff has done 90% of the work. We were able to place volunteers in an orphanage in Rangoon, since we had an established relationship with them prior to the disaster. 

In a more perfect world where volunteers would be welcome, the initial steps remain the same; assess the situation, determine the financial liability, and then team up volunteers with in-country staff. If a volunteer is able to stay for a long period of time, we then like to incorporate the ‘soft touches’, such as working with the children. During the immediate days after a disaster, the focus tends to be on the large problems, such as collapsed houses, sanitation, search and rescue, but as time goes by, it is key to have people at the ready, to spend time with the kids giving them hope. Providing a chance for them to work with a volunteer with music, art, dance and sports, allows them to be kids, and not worry about the disaster relief efforts that are underway. This is a very rewarding experience for the volunteers.

The big issue is that most people just want to help, but don't realize the financial costs of "just helping". We offer individuals or a group the opportunity to sponsor a house, school, clinic, a well, or even trees, and then go down and work along side with the locals to implement the project. 

It is essential that there is community buy-in to the project and that means involvement.  What you don't want to do is take away from the locals, who usually are desperate for money to help rebuild their lives, and have been hired through the large international organizations to build infrastructure etc.  When you are working from a needs list that was developed locally it usually gets instant community buy in.

An important point to make, especially for international volunteering, is that immediately after a disaster, there is an abundance of help, both from the large organizations, and individuals. But, then another catastrophe happens, and people move on to the next location. Having relationships in-country, allows us to continue to send volunteers, long after the disaster is out of the headlines.

Make sure you are working with a reputable organization that is sanctioned by the local authorities. It is often the Red Cross and/or UNDP that starts first - the smaller organizations are very much needed as well - the larger ones focus on emergency relief and larger projects - the smaller organizations are able to meet a huge need with individuals, families, rural schools, clinics - so both sizes are needed in a situation like this.  It is just important to know what the goal for each is so that there is as little overlap as possible.

Now to answer some of your questions:

What type of Projects: 

  • Shelter (house building)
  • Access to water (wells or filters)
  • Food (rice or seeds)
  • Fertilizer for the new crops
  • Working with the children

How should VolunTourists be informed and guided through the process? Normally, there is a central relief site sponsored by an organization.  For example, in Burma, the British Embassy organized the relief effort, and all filtered through them. Also, any organization who is involved with the area already will probably be sending out a request.  In addition, word of mouth is a great way to find an organization that you will feel good about working with - like minds - so ask your friends.

What information regarding leaving donations in the destination should be provided? This is a tricky situation. It is natural that when a volunteer is in-country and witnessing the devastation first hand, that they want to give money. We prefer that it is not given directly to the people they are working with, but with our in-country staff, so that it gets put toward the projects that we have identified.  That ensures that they money is used where the need is the greatest, and potentially can go further. 

Other points worth mentioning: 

  • Make sure the volunteer knows what the real situation is in the country they are going to volunteer in. 
  • Be prepared: 
    • What is the weather going to be?
    • Where is the nearest medical facility?
    • Will they need to take some food with them?
    • How are they going to communicate?
    • Will people back home know where and how to find them?

Working with an organization (such as GCSF) gives them a safety net.

Insights From David Fundingsland, Wild China Company, LTD

Question 1:

The exact timeline for initiating voluntourism will vary depending on the severity of the natural disaster. In the case of the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake, the local infrastructure - roads, hospitals, hotels, etc. - was so seriously damaged that not only would it have been impractical, but also extremely risky to bring travelers into the disaster zone in the first weeks and months following the disaster. After conducting a number of surveys of the disaster area, we determined that October or November 2008, 5 - 6 months after the event, would likely be the earliest that we could bring clients into the least affected areas of the region. For some of the areas we work in, access was difficult even more than a year after the disaster - our first successful voluntourism program in the disaster area did not travel until October 2009, one year and five months after the earthquake.

Question 2:  

Due to certain limitations of working in China, we needed to carefully choose which information we could share with clients.  We instead suggested that clients donate money to organizations that would be involved in the long term relief effort. For statistics on the devastation, we only provided information that was readily available in the domestic, Chinese, press.  Any effort to provide information that may have run contrary to official accounts may have compromised our efforts to operate in the province. Immediately following the earthquake, we regularly posted to our blog dispatches from some of our business associates who were helping with the relief effort and how our clients could, in the form of donations, help. Due to the outpouring of goodwill that follows such high profile disasters, there is often an excess of certain types of assistance.  For example, we had many offers from our clients to donate camping equipment to the relief effort, but the needs for such equipment were already filled quite rapidly following the disaster.

Question 3:

Following the disaster, local nonprofits were the best source of information for the situation on the ground and what was needed. The nonprofits with whom we worked in Sichuan helped us determine the feasibility of doing volunteer work in any given area as well as how we could best mobilize our resources to have greatest positive impact.  In many parts of China, volunteer work is still very much a foreign concept - it was essential for us to have partners on the ground with strong relationships in affected communities to help us bridge that gap.  

Question 4:

In China, we need to be mindful of the amount of attention we bring to a specific project.  While we report some of our activities on our company's blog, most of the reporting we do is directly with the clients involved in the project.  Because our voluntourism programs are project focused, program fees for any given volunteer travel program generally only cover the work done during the length of the travel program.  We make available to our clients, upon request, a breakdown of the project funding - how much money is going to the service project and how that money is being spent. And since the majority of our voluntourism programs focus on construction projects, photographs are an essential part of our follow-up reporting to our clients.  

Question 5:

First and foremost, as an operator, you need to determine the risk factors involved when working in a post-disaster environment. It is absolutely critical that you are frank and direct with potential clients about the health and safety issues that remain in the affected region. As a part of this, it is extremely helpful to report on the state of recovery and reconstruction in an area. If an operator can provide accurate, up-to-date information on local conditions through photographs and first hand reports, it helps build confidence amongst clients that your company is aware of the potential risks of working in a post-disaster environment and that safety issues are not being taken lightly. Secondly, but equally as important, an operators needs to carefully consider how the volunteer program can meaningfully contribute to the recovery of a disaster affected region. While infrastructure projects, such as rebuilding schools, roads, housing, are essential to a regions recovery, these are also the projects that receive the greatest attention and investment from government agencies involved in reconstruction. While the big infrastructure projects attract the greatest attention, services, such as public sanitation, often are neglected. Rather than simply rebuilding what was already there, volunteer programs in post-disaster environments should take advantage of public awareness and goodwill to work to improve local living conditions. In the case of Sichuan, our community projects focused on improving local sanitary conditions through the construction of ecologically friendly toilet facilities in impacted rural communities.

Final Thoughts

Important Things To Remember...

Sensitivity - As it applies particularly to local government and residents

Timeline - general consensus is six months post-disaster

Local Involvement - local residents MUST be involved

Education - voluntourists must be informed prior to arrival

Risk Mitigation - look for ways to reduce risk for all parties

Project Identification - formulate projects with definitive timelines and measurable outcomes

Transparency - where does the money go?

Voluntourist Grouping - avoid sending individuals to communities

Quite a bit to absorb, is it not?!?

But here we are, entering a new decade, and within two months we have two major earthquakes resulting in massive destruction and loss of life.

Voluntourism to the rescue?

Hardly. Yet, we have so much we can learn from these tourism industry professionals and researchers to help us craft a plan for moving forward with voluntourism in Haiti and Chile. And maybe, just maybe, we can increase our receptivity to the point that destination marketing organizations (DMOs) - boards of tourism, convention & visitors bureuas, etc. - will use some of this collective wisdom to plan for voluntourism in advance of natural disasters, to perhaps go so far as to pre-coordinate with other entities within both the public and private sectors. Wouldn't that make for a shift in perspective - reactive to proactive.

If relationships are fostered in advance of devastation, the possibility of quickening the voluntourism-implementation-timeline, six months post-disaster as suggested herein, may very well be realized.

There is something else, I will mention it only in passing, and that is the growing body of evidence that supports people around the world are beginning to see themselves as 'global citizens.' "The events that scar the lives of other earthlings are no less 'theirs' than 'ours'" appears to be an ever-more-popular mantra, especially among Millennials. As an example, John Zogby, author of The Way We'll Be: The Transformation of the American Dream, puts it this way as he describes what he refers to as 'The First Globals' (those born in the U.S. from 1979-1990):

{Source: "The Evolving American Dream" AARP Bulletin, Print Edition, 1 October 2008}

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