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FEATURE ARTICLE 1
Voluntourism: What To Look For In 2013
Another year has come and gone. Voluntourism saw some dramatic changes in 2012 – the significant “decline” of the middle man and the “rise” of the independent voluntourist, for example. We saw Kickstarter and other crowd-funding outlets play an important role in the creation of documentaries, books, and even voluntourism journeys. We saw the media directing its attention to the negative impacts of voluntourism, while a number of NGOs, bloggers, and outspoken individuals initiated a notable campaign to put an end to orphanage tourism, broadly, and orphanage voluntourism, more specifically. We saw a measurable increase in the number of animal-centric voluntourism programs across the globe, including those creatures found in the oceans and waterways of the world. And, another set of voluntourism guidelines was published. What can we expect in 2013?
If the Mayan calendar was indeed drawing our attention to the birth of a new age on earth, rather than Armageddon, what might we anticipate in the year ahead as it pertains to voluntourism?
Shifting Demographics Means More Discernment
Although there has been much anecdotal evidence put forth that young people (students and those under the age of 25) are the predominant age group for participating in voluntourism, such suggestions are not well-supported by the data we are collecting here at VolunTourism.org. Over the last couple of years, the results of our Voluntourism Survey put the age group of 26-35 as the largest audience of potential voluntourists. Of course, the preponderance of this group consisting of females has not changed, with nearly 4 out of 5 respondents selecting the “female” check box on the survey. If the age group is shifting, however, and we are moving from a student base to a professional base of participants, what are we likely to see in the voluntourism space?
Well, one thing to take into consideration is a greater degree of discernment. What the power of many participants in a given program and the megaphone of big-time marketing may have provided to a number of voluntourism operators in the mid-to-latter stages of the ‘00s is virtually useless at this stage of the growth & development of the intersection of service & travel. An older demographic means more research, more discussion with friends and family, and more scrutiny of providers. “Is my money winding up in the local communities?” “Am I truly making a difference in the destination to which I am traveling?” “Am I taking a job from a local resident?” In essence, “Am I being a responsible voluntourist?” Such questions are not as prone to cross the mind of an 18-year old as they are a 28-year old. The voluntourism space may have enjoyed the wave of enthusiasm of young people who simply wanted to do things differently than the previous generation. Now, however, they will be competing, not with a group of voluntourism operators, but with how well they measure up to the ever-rising standards of a cyberspace-informed, experience-savvy group of young professional women.
Family Voluntourism To Continue Its Surge
Again, research is bearing out that a whole new segment of voluntourism participants is stepping forth. Led by that large majority female audience we know so well, families are making a compelling case for why voluntourism should be, well, family-friendly. But, families do not have to be led by mothers.
Take the case of the Lewis Family in 2012. Father J.D. Lewis joined his two sons - Buck (8) and Jackson (15) - on a voluntourism trip around the world that included twelve stops in twelve months (ending in September 2012) and served organizations throughout the adventure. So moved by the experience, the three "men" have launched the Twelve In Twelve Foundation to provide ongoing support to the organizations they partnered with in a variety of destinations.
Family voluntourism is truly something to pay attention to in 2013 and beyond, in part because of what was demonstrated in the case of the Lewis Family. If families really do take a liking to your program, you can count on the fact that, at minimum, some additional funds will arrive to support the local community. Family members may transform their birthdays into fundraisers, for example. Gifting to others, rather than self, is an advancing trend for children. A connection to a cause where children have been exposed to something truly remarkable, as can very easily be the case through voluntourism, can lead to a potentially long-term relationship. And how often do organizations have a chance to recruit supporters at such a young age?
Geo-Coding & Geo-Mapping: A New Role for Voluntourists
The rise of the need for transparency in the official development assistance (ODA) community, or “Aid” as it is often referred to, has brought to light a new function for voluntourists. Though research-oriented voluntourism has primarily focused on the environment – on the land or in the seas, questions related to exactly where ODA monies are being directed in local communities have become commonplace in the complexity of post-9/11 geopolitics and counter-terrorism measures. A world is also watching on as we collectively approach 2015 and to what degree we have achieved success regarding the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Thus, the options for voluntourists to contribute to the collection of this data is a most intriguing prospect for a world that is becoming hungrier and hungrier for diversity of voluntourism experience.
The structure of such programs will be unique. Here at VolunTourism.org, we will be at the forefront of test-driving approaches with pilot groups and individuals to determine how to best approach such things as pre-trip education, in-destination orientation and additional training, and post-engagement follow on to afford participants an opportunity to stay connected to projects and to possibly continue following the progression of data collection at a given site. These experiences provide voluntourists with a two-fold, interactive aspect: 1) interfacing with technology and, via the internet, the world at large, and 2) interfacing with local community residents.
Higher Education Stressing Global Education For Students
Institutions of Higher Learning in the U.S. and elsewhere will begin mandating that students have international experiences at both the K-12 level and at the university level in the years ahead. Heather Lattimer,Ed.D., of the University of San Diego, offered a presentation -- "Defining 'Globally Competent Pedagogy'" and expressed some key points on this subject at the 2012 NAFSA Conference. In a world that is quickly emerging as, well, one "earth," education beyond the classroom through international experience is essential to a well-rounded high school or college graduate - a citizen of the world, rather than a nation-state.
Thus, we should expect to see in 2013 and beyond a growing emphasis on international travel. And as "high schools" and "universities" begin to link international experience with their respective mandates as being of service to the world at large, we will see a growing emphasis on voluntourism-related programming. It will be essential for the Voluntourism Community to step forward and demonstrate the importance of combining travel & tourism-related experiences as well as service-directed engagements for students. Otherwise, the Service-Learning model or the Alternative Breaks model will continue to lead the way for interaction at the destination level. And these models are in desperate need of retrofitting to say the least.
Domestic & International Voluntourism In/To The Developed World
Take a closer look at the European Union and the United States, for example, and you cannot help but notice that "poverty" is on the rise. The developed world is dealing with declining and expensive-to-replace infrastructures and economic tensions carrying over from the Global Economic Meltdown, while the United States, in particular, has been dealing with natural disasters - - more than four natural disasters in 2012, with each one resulting in more than $1 billion USD in damages.
But it isn't merely the damage to physical structures that we should be concerned about. No, it is the lives of the individuals who are impacted by the devastation. The psychological trauma involved in losing the physical environment can be uttterly devastating. Voluntourists need to realize that their roles, as they step into aftermath situations, are, guite often, less about what they can do to clean up or "fix" the physical environment and are more about simply being present for the individuals who are dealing with anger, grief, sadness, and so many other emotions. We may discover at some point that voluntourists stepping into these situations will be better suited to have some training to better support residents and their families. Of course, much of the post-disaster, voluntourism-led support is domestic-based.
Beyond disasters, we must also recognize that the developed world is dealing with poverty and societal issues at unprecedented levels. Hunger and poverty in the U.S., for example, are at their highest levels in a post-World War II society. The struggle for the developed world, of course, is learning how to be a recipient of goodwill. How does the developed world restructure itself to be the hosting environment for individuals who are coming from foreign lands and wish to be of support. Legislation to support this importaion of goodwill is a necessity moving forward. And this is something that voluntourism will catalyze not only in 2013, but in the years ahead.
2013 marks the 10th Anniversary of VolunTourism.org. Education has been our founding principle; and education will play an ever-more important role in the development and expansion of voluntourism as the months and years pass. Part of this education comes in the form of simply recognizing that the world is changing - it's inhabitants, what they are exposed to, and how they respond to the changes of this world, are influencing how they travel, certainly, but more important is the impact on how they live.
We may have originally considered voluntourism to be a way of traveling, where individuals would simply lend a hand when they arrive in a destination. What seems to be occurring, however, is that voluntourism is part of a lifestyle shift. If this continues to be the case, we may soon do away with voluntourism altogether. We may simply use the word travel to mean what we have created a separate word to emphasize. And won't that make for a much simpler world to navigate!
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