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The Blog Post Title Read: "Voluntourist Murdered"
A sinking feeling in my stomach overwhelmed me as I read the post on the NOLAfugees.com website. To think that VolunTourists could remain immune to the rubbish of the world seems incredibly naive, if not to say, perhaps, tinged with hubris. But, a review of 2008 tells us that violence had an impact on VolunTourism; and we must remember to guide our activities both cautiously and responsibly in accordance with the dictates of prudence and risk mitigation throughout the New Year and into the future.
I have yet to either confirm or deny that Ms. Kirsten Brydum was, in fact, a voluntourist. It seems wholly inconsequential at this point. Given that I had not heard about this tragedy prior to my reading of it on 11 December 2008, nearly 10 weeks since the shooting, suggests that others within the VolunTourism space were unaware of it also. Nor, do I think that this would be a headline well-received by the Crescent City (New Orleans) given that more than 1 million travellers, with the intent of volunteering, have descended there over the course of the last three years. (In surfing the web, I also discovered this article regarding Angelo Frammartino who was described as "a tourist who had traveled to Israel... to do volunteer work." He was murdered back in August 2006 in Israel.)
What can we learn from the loss of Kirsten Brydum, Angelo Frammartino, and others who may have perished during a voluntourism experience? How can we better address the violence that has and is affecting VolunTourism around the world? And what can all voluntourism stakeholders do to better understand the "dark side" of this work? (Review some of Jackie Kelm's thoughts in this issue's Wisdom & Insight column.)
Being responsible for the well-being of others is probably the most difficult and occult responsibilities of anyone who assumes the mantle of being a VolunTourist or running a VolunTourism operation. It is the silent secret of the VolunTourism world because, in large part, if one spent time reviewing the potential for disastrous outcome, it would prove nearly impossible to approach an insurance broker with any sense of integrity whatsoever. Think of some of the remote locations in which voluntary service is rendered, the types of tasks that are undertaken, the quality of food preparation and hygiene, and the potential for conflict between rival tribes or even urban gang members. [In the past, I have worked alongside a man who had been recently released from prison having taken the life of his first victim when he was only twelve years old.]
From reading Ms Brydum's writings, her virtual memorial which includes comments from friends, family and perfect strangers, video and slideshow offerings, and reviewing her work with the San Francisco Really Really Free Market, Access Cafe, and the Collective Autonomy Network, I have come to the conclusion that Ms. Brydum exemplified qualities that any voluntourist could, and likely would want to, express. Service and active engagement represented the core embodiment of her personage. Seeing the world through a different lens and observing the omnipresent abundance - in direct contrast to the stark reports of financial meltdown propogated across the globe, Ms. Brydum was transforming her thinking and subsequently her activity to reflect this growing conviction. Additionally, she saw merit in expanding this beyond herself by sharing it with others and having others share it amongst themselves. (As VolunTourists and VolunTourism Stakeholders, we may not yet be ready to start a "Really Really Free VolunTourism Market," but we can certainly adopt and incorporate some of Ms Brydum's ideals into our respective business and operational models.)
Violence has hit close to home in 2008, also. As a resident of the San Diego/Tijuana Border Region, the San Diego Union Tribune's website has regularly covered the murders of more than 800 individuals in and around Tijuana. This has resulted in massive losses to the tourism industry and the suspension of operations for at least one VolunTourism program in the city, while others have had to contend with greatly reduced participation. And earlier this year in Kenya, another VolunTourism outfit had to navigate the political unrest while a group was in-destination.
Do you have an emergency preparedness plan?
Do you have insurance policies that cover accidental death and dismemberment?
Have you trained staff on what to do in the case of loss of life?
Do you have materials for voluntourists to review?
I know this is not the topic that one expects surrounding the advent of the New Year, but having a resolution on addressing the un-thinkable may serve many of us as VolunTourism continues its expansion and reach around the world. Not having a plan is, in my opinion, equally un-thinkable. The terrorism that inflicted itself on Mumbai may not have impacted VolunTourists directly, but do we need to wait for such an occurrence to warrant action? I think not.
Certainly, we have covered the subject of safety and security on The VolunTourist Webcast (episode #15). This blog post on the passing of Kirsten Brydum, however, coupled with other events of the year and the proximity of violence to me here in San Diego has really sparked my considerable attention on this matter. Attempting to do good does not insure one's complete and utter immunity from tragic outcomes. It may generate good karma, but this does not compensate for poor or ineffectual planning in the mitigation of risk - the loss of life being the greatest risk of all!
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