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...
It was a Tuesday morning in early August. I was mentally preparing myself for a series of meetings including a Nancy Rivard, Founder of Airline Ambassadors, later in the day in San Francisco, California. The Lindbergh Field tarmac was playing host to a fleet of 727’s, 737’s, and 757’s as they patiently awaited the ending of the San Diego flight curfew (6:30am). I was readjusting belt and shoes following my passage through the TSA security screening when my phone rang. A voice apologized for the hour of the call and informed me that I was speaking to Susan Campbell, columnist for the Hartford Courant.
As the conversation unfolded, Susan shared with me that she had recently taken her son on a volunteer travel experience with Habitat For Humanity (HFH). I listened carefully to her description of her travels. You can review her words in the article, “Spiritual Journey: A Vacation Spent Volunteering Becomes So Much More.”
She asked me a series of questions that I would put in the category of “frequently asked questions” (FAQ’s) regarding VolunTourism and my role in supporting its continuing unfoldment. I will not repeat them here, as quite a number of them have been covered in previous newsletters and on the Web site. But several of the items that we touched upon, I would like to share with you:
1) “The word ‘journal’ is not a verb”
I absolutely laughed out loud when Susan said this during our conversation – leading to much consternation in the form of frowns on the faces of other airport guests surrounding me in those wee hours of the morning. But it was funny, really!
Susan shared with me that the majority of the participants were under the ripe, old age of 25 years with little or no previous international travel experience. One of the regular questions emoted from these exuberant young people was, “Do you journal?” Certainly, in our conversation, Susan and I were quick to affirm the value of such a practice on two very important conditions: First, keep this personal practice to oneself. There is no need to share it with others unless you are asked. Second, do not use a noun as a verb, the grammatical implications are monumental! (By-the-by: The verb is “journalize.”)
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2) Levels of Recommended Participation
This was not the first conversation that I have had involving this particular subject. There is word amongst “savvy” VolunTourists that there needs to be a series of guidelines or standards that supports the selection of an “appropriate level” of experience in determining whether someone is prepared to undergo a particular VolunTourism journey. Even with the best forms of screening, however, an adept traveler must be prepared to encounter “novitiates” as fellow group participants.
Many young people, as a rule, are drawn to VolunTourism to complete service hours, especially, in the United States. Others want to embark to foreign lands in the hopes of truly seeing cultures and people as they really are – not the version found at traditional tourist stops. Or they may be interested in engaging in such activities with other like-minded individuals in the hopes of fostering friendships, bulking up their resumes, or learning about a potential direction for their career.
In the near future, Voluntourism.org will make an effort to review some of the VolunTourism itineraries around the world and speak with operators about the recommended level of experience that individuals should have in order to participate. And, of course, we cannot only look at the savvy traveler side of this. There may be those who have not had exposure on the voluntary service side that will undergo not a little trepidation when confronting issues such as AIDS/HIV, abject poverty, or child deformities. This can be equally challenging and not suited for all prospects.
3) The Add-On Experience
Because Susan was participating in a construction project that included an eight-hour day, I was surprised to hear that they had the time to engage in additional activities – rafting, etc. With nonprofit organizations and NGOs, the traditional pattern has been that such tourism elements were not included as they would violate tax deductibility constraints established by the respective governments under which their status as a nonprofit/NGO was qualified. Taxable products and services, those that deliver a personal benefit to the consumer, like recreational activities - hiking, white-water rafting, etc, would need to be declared by both the nonprofit/NGO and the consumer.
If handled accordingly, such offerings will enhance the overall itinerary and lead to greater memories and more balance for participants. Some of these “steam-releasing” options give VolunTourists a chance to release personal tension that can accrue from conducting physical labor on a level that is contrary to life’s normal process or mental frustration with issues such as rampant poverty and disease.
We concluded our conversation and I wished her well with the story. (Let us know what you think after you review it.)
About a month later, I picked up a voicemail message that had only the number of the caller, nothing else was included. I would not generally respond in such a situation, but something compelled me to do so. A woman answered the phone and said that her name was indeed, Ms. Johnson (I am not using her actual name to respect her privacy.). I told her who I was and asked her why she would have contacted me. She had read Susan Campbell’s article in the Hartford Courant and was wondering if I could help her in selecting a future volunteer travel opportunity – a reasonable request.
In the 30-minute conversation that ensued, Ms. Johnson wove an amazing tale of how she had begun her track of participating in voluntary service and travel. It was something that she had wanted to do for years prior to her retirement as an educator. Her work as a volunteer for the American Cancer Society (ACS) Thrift Store in her community had simply encouraged her all the more to engage in such meaningful travel. But because she felt that her husband would be unwilling to join her, or that he might not be able to fend for himself in the house alone, she decided to hold onto her dream and focus her attention on her existing service work.
When her husband passed, Ms. Johnson determined that she now had the freedom to embark on her first journey. She invested two months in an organization which she told me she had selected from a book that offered a list of such trips. (I will not mention the book by name, since Ms. Johnson had a very trying experience. Suffice it to say that I felt even more strongly that these experiences should not only be researched but screened more credibly than is currently the case.)
Although the first option proved to be a negative one for her, she did not let this slow her down. She went back home, made some calls, talked to friends – all without internet connection, either – and finally selected journey #2. Success! Journey #3 – Success! Her call to me was to help her review option #4. This one could only be a week because she had taken on more responsibility at the ACS Thrift Store. I think she has made a fine choice.
I did not ask Ms. Johnson her age, although there were several clues that suggest she is a member of the “mature” audience. I have been fascinated with her story ever since I spoke with her. I have not chosen to disclose other details of our conversation, nor have I ventured to reveal the selections she made for her itineraries; these, to me, were not that relevant. What I felt was most important, and came through very clearly throughout the conversation, is that this is a person who has discovered the power of service. The meaning and purpose that service provides in her life, and we can speculate all we want about having meaning and purpose after losing a spouse or significant other, has given her a tremendous boost. She speaks enthusiastically about her duties & responsibilities and the cause in which she resoundingly believes – ACS.
It is the purpose-fulfilling nature of VolunTourism that encourages this “young” woman to travel. The ability to put her life practice into her travel itinerary makes it that much more meaningful for her.
I am grateful to Susan Campbell and Ms. Johnson for making VolunTourism part of their lives. Most of all, I am grateful that they were willing to share those lives with me.
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