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So You May Know...
"Ruined For Life"
The Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) uses this phrase to detail the transformation that a JVC volunteer undergoes through the process of a year's worth of experience in the various placements that the organization offers. Here is a personal description from one former JVC volunteer, Mr. Mark Hanafee, regarding his work with the Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging (CFCA):
To set the record straight, actually, I was not “ruined” at all; I was changed for the better because I was touched by the poor people with whom I worked as a volunteer. As volunteers, we are all touched by the poor in different ways; the one common experience is that once you are touched, you remember it because there is something passionate about the encounter. At some point we feel overwhelmed by the encounter and this helps us to relate with the experience of being poor. It is an encounter which makes us feel more human, feel like we are more fully alive. I, for example, was somehow surprised by the realization that my “poor” friends were happy and knew how to enjoy life and celebrate at least as well, if not better, than I, a person who has never experienced real hunger for food. Somehow, this seemed like a contradiction to me because I had a “solid” family, a “solid” education and shouldn’t this help me to be more “fully alive” than the poor? The answer to that question may seem obvious to you and I now, but at the time I was startled by this new understanding. It still affects me with my decisions today and will continue to affect me for the rest of my life.
Now what does this mean in relation to VolunTourism?
It is possible for the same type of "ruined for life" experience to occur, perhaps to an even similar degree regardless of the time commitment, for VolunTourists. And, fortunately, we have some qualitative statements by VolunTourists that speak directly to this.
Some of you are aware that I recently was in Indianapolis conducting an on-camera interview for "The Hope Givers," which was televised on WFYI, the PBS affiliate in Indianapolis, on Thursday, February 23rd. Both the person that interviewed me, Diane Willis of Lee Willis Communications, and the Producer, Jim Morrison of WFYI, had participated as VolunTourists on a trip to Morocco. One of the telling questions that they asked me, and I will paraphrase it here, was:
If you haven't experienced poverty, if you haven't seen a malnourished child, if you haven't bent over the frame of a person dying of AIDS, if you haven't had the construct of your life- and thought-matrix rattled, then you are in for an adventure travel experience through VolunTourism that is going to absolutely "ruin you for life."
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But it doesn't have to come to this, per se. In fact, I do not want this to be the perception of VolunTourism. I think there are things that can be done to educate and inform prior to a VolunTourism trip that can make this "ruined for life" mental state not one that every VolunTourist needs to undergo, at least to the degree in which it becomes too challenging to absorb.
Therefore... How Do We Support VolunTourists?
I think that if we are to more fully engage people as VolunTourists, we have to fully disclose the potential challenges/rewards that each participant may realize as a result of their VolunTourism experience. Of course, these are not things that you are going to see in an ordinary travel brochure, and they certainly will not appear in the pages of your glossy travel publication.
People are actually seeking this type of experience - believe it or not. It is not something that you can buy on the shelf. It is something that is made possible by the unique situation that VolunTourism creates - unfamiliar destination or location, unfamiliar culture or language, unfamiliar social challenges, etc. The chemistry set can't put all of these molecules into one batch without a catalytic reaction occurring.
We can begin sharing the results of this catalysis via the testimonials of former VolunTourists. But these could include a before-testimonial, a during-testimonial, and an after-testimonial.
But I also want to engage the educational community, particularly the folks that study "transformational learning." And this is a direction we will explore in coming issues of The VolunTourist in order to more fully understand the potential of VolunTourism.
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