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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.

Volume 6 Issue 1 Highlights


So You May Know

What Is VolunTourism, Really?

There was a time when I was thoroughly convinced that I knew the answer to this question. However, the last decade has seen a proliferation of definitions and insights into the subject by pundits, proselyters, and naysayers alike. Coupled with breakthroughs in our understanding of the physical, mental, and metaphysical realms, revisiting this query at the beginning of Decade 2.0 seems more than appropriate. So, to kick-off Year Six of The VolunTourist Newsletter, I thought I would attempt to answer the question by putting it into a greater context - human evolution - and engage the support of my two unwitting accomplices: Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris and William Jefferson Clinton.


In our globally-individualized and individually-globalized journey along the continuum of 'all-things-self'(ATS) to 'all-things-as-self,' (ATAS) we have traditionally relied on pain and suffering as prods for altering our perspectives and, subsequently, our actions. Personal tragedies - loss of a loved one, great illness, or utter depletion of material resources - have served us well. On a grander scale, wars, natural disasters, and 'plagues,' for example, have had similar effects. What has me most hopeful, however, is that on some level we may be transitioning out of this routine. VolunTourism, in my opinion, represents a more proactive, rather than reactive, catalyst in this regard.

In 2002, Dr. Elisabet Sahtouris, evolution biologist and futurist, former lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, advisor to the United Nations on Indigenous Peoples, and author of EarthDance: Living Systems In Evolution, wrote a short article entitled "Issues of Human Evolution into Global Community." Here is the opening excerpt from the piece:

Dr. Sahtouris goes on to discuss the 'bad news' & 'good news' of: 1) Worldviews, 2) The Lure of Power, 3) Governance, 4) Technology, and 5) Youth. Her comments on each are worth a read and I encourage you to do so. But these comments under 'Youth: Good News' are the ones I have singled out to share as it pertains to VolunTourism:

I believe we owe it to young people to help transition them from perhaps wanting to 'hate' tourism, for example, and see it in the context of the system in which it was originally created. By integrating tourism with volunteerism, we are not attempting to create a new portmanteau, we are, in fact, making an effort to move, as Dr. Sahtouris points out, from 'a juvenile competitive phase into a mature cooperative phase.'

Just exactly, how should this be done?

Synergies & Similarities Between Tourism & Volunteerism

Former U.S. President William Jefferson Clinton addressed attendees of the Center for American Progress's conference, Securing the Common Good: A Vision for America at Georgetown University back in 2006. Here is an excerpt from that speech:


If we are to progress toward a cooperative phase in our human evolution, it is essential that we focus on the 99.9 percent sameness that exists. This is no less true as it pertains to VolunTourism. As long as we continue to seek differentiation between volunteerism and tourism, we are likely to remain in our juvenile competitive phase. Instead, let's take a look at eight factors that are equally important to both. These are, in no particular order:

  • Service
  • Experience
  • Investment
  • Repetition
  • Passion
  • Purpose
  • Authenticity, and
  • Learning


By far the easiest item to discover from the list of common roots between volunteerism and tourism is SERVICE. Service is the heart of both. Without it, neither can be successful in acheiving desired outcomes.


In particular, we are referring to two aspects of experience - the 'experience' itself (what occurs) and the 'experience' (wisdom, personal insight, etc.) gained by the participant. Each is integrated into volunteering and touristic actitivities.


Whether investment is measured monetarily or as a product of time, both are relevant in the context of volunteerism and tourism. Although money may be seen as the greater of the two investments where tourism is concerned, time is no less a commodity in that context. Time, or lack thereof, is the item most often selected by those who are 'unable' to volunteer, yet to have the flexibility (often expressed as financial wherewithal) to be able to volunteer is equally important.


At first glance, this may raise some eyebrows into question mode. Repetition, however, is the life-blood of volunteerism. Volunteers need to keep coming back. For tourism, repetition is akin to the 'holy grail.' It is the great hope of members of that sector that travelers will repeat their visitations year after year.


Travel or volunteering without passion is flat, aimless, and utterly disappointing for all involved.

When travel and volunteering are infused with passion, however, the fruits of either are laden with a savory flavor that is truly memorable.


Without purpose one can become very lost while volunteering or traveling. Purpose gives meaning and answers the 'Why?' question, as this question will invariably resurface many, many times throughout the course of either experience.


Keep it real. This should be the motto of every volunteering stint and certainly for all travel. Authenticity represents the foundation upon which the choice to continue volunteering and/or traveling is ultimately made.


It is easy to identify the potential for external learning to occur in both settings - volunteering and traveling. What is less conspicuous to the untrained eye, however, is the learning that occurs internally - a better understanding of self, preferences & aversions, judgments, etc. This, of course, is enhanced when taken in the context of the contributions of such experiences to 'life-long' learning.

So... What Is VolunTourism, Really?

VolunTourism is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to exercise our cooperative mojo, to mature beyond a competitive, non-integral view of our humanity and to embrace the harmony that exists amongst and between. This is not to imply that we will form a clone-like homogeneity of travel experiences, but we will be well-suited to apply strategic thought and scientific process in evolving the intersection of voluntary service and travel & tourism.

As the heart cannot cannibalize the kidneys nor the liver and maintain a healthy body, it seems prudent that we seek to harmonize the relationship between economy and goodwill - neither of which is capable, any longer, of standing dominant in complete defiance of the 'natural order.' Tourism is the engine; volunteerism is the deliverable. For now, VolunTourism serves as a reminder that transition is possible, rather than painstakingly inevitable. We no longer need be bludgeoned by negative experience in order to reinvent our approach or alter our habits. VolunTourism gives us a chance to rewrite our collective DNA in a manner that does not completely annihilate the existing system. Trial & error and experimentation are open and available to us. I suggest we begin the process - - - today.

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