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January 2006 - Feature Article 2

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FEATURE ARTICLE 2

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FEATURE ARTICLE 2

VolunTourism & The Millennium Development Goals - Part I
With less than a decade left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the question to be addressed is: What role, if any, can VolunTourism play in helping to achieve these objectives by 2015?

In September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly established eight (8) Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)to be achieved by the year 2015. These were extraordinary objectives which are presented here as they appear on the United Nations website:

1) Eradicate Extreme Poverty & Hunger

2) Achieve Universal Primary Education

3) Promote Gender Equality & Empower Women

4) Reduce Child Mortality

5) Improve Maternal Health

6) Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria & Other Diseases

7) Ensure Environmental Sustainability

8) Develop A Global Partnership For Development

Each MDG has specific criteria established by which achievement can be measured. Our discussion will address each MDG's set of criteria as they relate, if at all, to VolunTourism.

Eradicate Extreme Poverty & Hunger

According the the criteria for this MDG, there are two items of importance:

1) Reduce by half the proportion of people living on less than a dollar a day, and

2) Reduce by half the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.

Thus, the first question to ask is:

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"Does VolunTourism have a way to impact wage earning for the extremely poor?"

We can answer this question affirmatively, if, and only if, we consider in the development of our respective VolunTourism products and services the duties that can be assumed by destination residents and the skills, knowledge, and expertise that can be delivered by VolunTourists to local residents.

The tourism industry has made strides to hire local residents, especially in such niches as adventure travel and rural tourism. But VolunTourism offers an even greater expansion on this model because of the nature of the work that can be addressed. To pay local residents to prepare a meal for a group that will be conducting a work project in the village is an excellent way to increase the income of families.

The hiring of local residents can be broadened. If there is a specialized type of building process that will be incorporated into a work project, e.g. rammed-earth construction, then those residents who have this skill can be hired to assist VolunTourists in completing their project.

In terms of improving residents' business practices, perhaps a group of VolunTourists has marketing and business skills; these individuals could assist local entrepreneurs in establishing better business practices to enhance their earning capacity.

These are merely examples, of course, but with the proper strategic planning, VolunTourism operators can establish as one of the purposes of their activities the goal of increasing the wage earning capacity of the local residents.

Now, when it comes to hunger, not everyone is in a position to improve their wage earning capacity. This is due to the fact that not all persons are members of the category of being able to provide for themselves. Dependent populations require assistance in meeting their daily food quota.

VolunTourism offers at least one very distinct means by which hunger can be addressed: VolunTourists can assist local villagers in achieving higher yields on current agricultural production.

Enhancing Agricultural Production

There are a number of ways to improve agricultural yields that are simple, economical, and long-term. One such method is complementing agricultural tracts with beekeeping. VolunTourists can also support local agriculture by planting certain types of trees in dry, arid climates. For more information and suggestions on how to enhance agriculture, VolunTourism Operators can visit the International Food Policy Research Institute or Future Harvest.

In other destinations it may be possible to dig canals to support additional irrigation. Wells or cisterns may be developed to collect a water reserve during the rainy seasons for disbursement at other times.

There are, doubtless, other ways that VolunTourists can support the alleviation of hunger. We will explore these in greater detail in an article later this year focused entirely on VolunTourism & Poverty. But for the current purpose, which is to make you think about how VolunTourism can support poverty reduction and hunger relief, this brief synopsis will suffice.

Achieve Universal Primary Education

This is a very challenging point that the MDGs bring forth. According to the specific language of this goal:

"Ensure that all boys and girls complete a full course of primary education."

VolunTourism will have very little impact on primary education for children. All of the input that VolunTourism could have in this area would be indirect.

First, we need to ask the question: Why do children fail to complete their primary education?

Well, not suprising to any of you, will be the fact that many children do not finish their primary education because they are required to begin working at an early age to supply families with additional income for food and other basic necessities. Thus, we are strangely back to the first MDG: Eradicating Poverty. This truly emphasizes the vicious cycle that is poverty. You need education to get out of poverty, but foregoing education is the way to keep you and your family from starving to death. Is there a balance point?

VolunTourism can certainly lead to building schools and supporting the infrastructure development that makes schooling possible - taxes from tourism dollars, etc. But infrastructure does not change the need for food that impairs the learning cycle (improper nutrition harms brain development). If VolunTourism is to play a successful role in bringing primary education to children, it will have to do so from an economic impact.

Could an NGO train a group of VolunTourists to work in a field for a day or on a farm so that a child could go to school? Yes, this is possible, but highly unlikely due to the level of trust that a farmer has in their child as compared to a perfect stranger, i.e. a VolunTourist. With proper "pre-education" for both the VolunTourist and the farmer, a susbsitute labor approach could be developed.

The practicality of such an effort is quickly overshadowed when we realize that VolunTourists could do other things to enhance productivity and income earning potential for families that would make such susbstitute labor schemes inutile. With there "spending power" and their voluntary labor impact that can improve wage earning and productivity, VolunTourists can institute changes at a local level that can summarily shift the need for children to work prior to "graduation" from primary education.

This is a type of conscientious VolunTourism that requires significant education on the part of the VolunTourism Operators and Suppliers. A partnership that focuses on changing schooling rates for children would require intense effort on the part of all parties and would likely take a significant amount of time to pefect. But once the seed is planted and VolunTourists begin to understand their role in eliminating poverty and, subsequently, in improving the education levels of children, great strides can occur.

And this may be exactly a point of differentiation for VolunTourism: Explain the reality of the situation to VolunTourism Operators, Suppliers, and VolunTourists so that they implicitly comprehend the potential impact of their functionality in the puzzle called Human Development.

Part II

We will pick up next month with Goal #3 and perhaps will have some input from a guest writer or two.

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