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.
So You May Know...
VolunTourism: There Is No Box!
If you are making an effort to keep pace with the growth and evolution of VolunTourism around the world, here is a suggestion that may save you hours of contemplation:
There is no box outside of which to think, because, for VolunTourism, there has never been a box.
As a movie buff, I resonated with the meeting between "Neo" and the young lad at the apartment of the "Oracle" in the Warner Bros./Village Road Show presentation, The Matrix. "Neo," when he first enters the parlor, spies the young lad with a pile of mangled spoons at his feet.
"Do not try to bend the spoon, for that is impossible," rings the voice of the lad. "Instead, try to realize the truth... there is no spoon."
In the case of VolunTourism, we make every effort to compartmentalize it according to the framework which we currently hold for all business operations: What are the liabilities? What are the options for profitability? How do we handle capacity and functionality concerns? How do we train suppliers to embrace "hospitality standards"?
These are all questions with which we are familiar. But do they have a fundamental basis in the ultimate develop-ment of VolunTourism? They do if you are intent on using them to construct the box of your particular VolunTourism operations.
However, there is no "proper" construction of Volun-Tourism itineraries. Because so much of VolunTourism is connected to the relationship between the VolunTourists and the destination - its residents, culture, history, etc., it is ever in flux. Emotion, passion, connectivity, feelings, thoughts - all qualitative in nature - cannot be limited to a cubed, quantitative construction.
One can make every effort to adhere to a regimented itinerary with plotted courses and timelines for arrivals and departures. This is the prerogative of every VolunTourism Operator. Prepare yourself nevertheless for remodeling, reshaping, and, in some instances, outright dissolution of your precious "box". Geometry and other rationale lose their applicability when the heart is motivated, touched, charmed, or even incapacitated based upon the experience of a lifetime.
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This is not to insist that an itinerary be completely abandoned. Structure has its place for certain aspects of a VolunTourism journey - i.e., if a VolunTourist misses a plane connection, then she/he does not participate. If a VolunTourist fails to have proper insurance, liability may become a serious challenge. If innoculations are not taken prior to departure, a nasty case of malaria may follow.
These elements will benefit from structure and cohesive understanding by all stakeholders. Structure is the compass that will provide bearings in inclement conditions. Rather than a box, you are creating a foundation from which to operate, a canvas upon which to paint the heart's rhythm.
In this issue of "The VolunTourist", we begin to touch on the subject of transformational learning. What is most important for you as a VolunTourism practitioner is to realize the role that processing of experiences commands in these travel environments. All of the testimonials offered by VolunTourists resonate with a common theme - "I am changed." Though the words may not be expressed exactly in this fashion, the self-analysis and self-reporting are consistent with this message - "I thought there was a box; now there is no box for me."
VolunTourism is a hybrid activity. It is not simply a five- senses engagement. We are also involving the sixth sense, intuition, and the true feeling of the heart as it opens to the service of others - human, animal, and/or plant. To assume that a VolunTourist is ready to absorb the "shock" of this is, well, a wee bit naive. If there was a box in which someone held her/his view of the world and her/his relationship to it, that box no longer exists after true participation in VolunTourism.
Even if this is a momentary experience of "no-box" mentality and feeling, it is sufficient to challenge the existing framework with the thought or notion that there is, in fact, no box. How well each of your VolunTourists handles this moment is a real reflection on how well you educate them prior to their connection with it as to pre-cursors with which they can familiarize themselves. You may also want to emphasize elements of "transformative" thought or those things that may trigger or catalyze such thought.
(This is not to suggest that other journeys fail to deliver transformative experiences. However, the broadest brushstroke of such transformation is likely to impact more of your participants with far less emphasis on the "phenomenal" aspects of the itinerary, i.e. when they are volunteering.)
VolunTourism will more likely achieve its fundamental effect - change in world view and perspective- if the stakeholders are aware in advance of the potential. Keeping geometry and limitation from creating a construct, rather than a foundation from which to launch oneself, will ensure that VolunTourists "realize the truth...there is no box!"
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