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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 9 Issue 3 Highlights

 
HistoriCorps 8380

So You May Know

A Response To A Post On Voluntourism By Blogger Shay Hurst, Inspired By The Daily Mail's Chloe Lambert

If you did not catch the article entitled "Fake orphanages. Bogus animal sanctuaries. And crooks growing rich on Western gullibility... why do-gooding gap year holidays may be a horrifyingly callous con" which appeared on the Daily Mail website on 12 September 2013, you may want to take some time to at least peruse it. Chloe Lambert leaves nothing to chance in terms of portraying what can go horribly wrong when it comes to misguided voluntourism. The article catalyzed a blog post by Shay Hurst, which in turn inspired some of what follows.

Introduction

I recently attended the first session of a four-retreat, nine-month program being hosted just outside of Seattle called Generating Transformative Change (GTC) run by Pacific Integral. On the second day of this opening retreat, we spent time absorbing the work of Terri O'Fallon, PhD, a member of the GTC Faculty, as presented in "StAGES: Growing up is Waking up—Interpenetrating Quadrants, States and Structures." Below is an image from the paper cited here and from the course itself, followed by a brief explanation of the figure from Dr. O'Fallon:

Developmental Stages O'Fallon

I spend every day of my life trying to improve voluntourism – not by beating it with a stick, but by coaxing it to a new level of awareness and providing it with tools, knowledge, and insights to become better and better. I will be the first to point out its flaws, but we all have so many warts; it seems absurdly redundant to remind ourselves of this with any kind of vehemence or vitriol. Would you want someone to come and say: “Holy Crap, look at the warts you have!” in the places you can’t see, for example? Nobody benefits from that approach. Blame voluntourism, blame it for having warts – gigantic, ugly warts. Or help it discover those warts in a way that affords it a chance to remove those warts. You can spend an equal amount of energy helping voluntourism discover what it is doing well, while reminding it that it still has a long way to go.

What I hope readers can take away from this map, and based on what Dr. O'Fallon writes, is simply this: Although there are many, MANY perspectives in the world, we can begin to apprehend that some similarities exist amongst and between them and, most important of all, we can begin to uncover these perspectives both within us and around us.

Thus, we come to the perspectives presented in the article from the Daily Mail's Chloe Lambert and the follow-on blog post written by Shay Hurst. How do we want to respond? What do we want to say? How do we truly, operative word here, listen to what they have to say and how do we respond in a way that "speaks to their listening"? Answering these questions will afford us an opportunity to communicate in ways that honor all perspectives and are developmentally supportive and more consciously aware. And that can't be such a bad thing, can it?

"Dear Shay"

Lots of perspectives you can take on voluntourism. You have certainly presented one here (http://shayhurst.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/voluntourism/) , and I enjoy reading it. Lets me glance into the consciousness of another person getting connected to this space for the first time.

Individuals want to make a difference in this world. And there are countless ways to do that. One way to make a difference is to travel and volunteer. What folks are struggling with is the “How” – how do we connect travel and volunteering in a way that empowers communities, affords us a chance to come to a greater awareness of our interdependence on this ever-smaller planet, and supports the transition from socio-economic isolation to socio-economic interdependence? In my opinion, voluntourism is “an” approach to this process. It may not be the “best” approach, but it has some interesting features which afford us a chance to come into contact with philosophical and consciousness-raising questions about our role in the ever-changing, master motion picture that is life on this planet.

When you travel, there are some good rules of thumb to follow – try to buy local, stay local, and keep your footprint to a minimum. Try to ensure your money stays within the context of the local economy as best you can. This is “tourism.” When you volunteer, if this is what you want to do, let it be your additional contribution to the destination, a sign of your gratitude. Don’t think you are going to change anything. You won’t. But, you will change yourself. And, maybe, just maybe, when you do that, you will change the world. Who you are, after all, is part of this world. Pick up a piece of trash from the sidewalk when you are walking through a destination – it is a voluntary act, right? If you want to help a business translate its website into English, because you are fluent in Spanish, go for it. If you want to share another skill or talent you have with a group that is interested in benefiting from that skill or talent, let it rip. Be selective, of course, but let it rip!

HistoriCorps 1361

There is nothing inherently wrong with voluntourism. It is the “how” that really matters. And what we can do is continually work to improve the how. We don’t need to kill off voluntourism any more than we need to kill off fast food – just help fast food serve more vegetables and fruit by going there and eating a salad. If voluntourism can assist the tourism industry in considering a new way of delivering its products and services in a community, because people like yourself are demonstrating another way of traveling, we all benefit, right?

We all have choices. When we go out of our way to tell people what is wrong with something, we really don’t give them a chance to make a choice. If we go out and show them how something can work, when you really put your mind to it, we give them a choice. I was able to do it, maybe you can, too, or not – but you at least have a choice.

Many people spend a lot of effort, at least where voluntourism is concerned, telling people why it is wrong, why it violates communities, etc. Okay, you win… well, you win the fact that you made your point. Did you do anything to improve voluntourism? Did you do anything to support that community that really wants to build a dry pit toilet so they can cut down on malaria or dengue fever brought on by standing water from their current refuse approach? Probably not. But you made your point.

I spend every day of my life trying to improve voluntourism – not by beating it with a stick, but by coaxing it to a new level of awareness and providing it with tools, knowledge, and insights to become better and better. I will be the first to point out its flaws, but we all have so many warts; it seems absurdly redundant to remind ourselves of this with any kind of vehemence or vitriol. Would you want someone to come and say: “Holy Crap, look at the warts you have!” in the places you can’t see, for example? Nobody benefits from that approach. Blame voluntourism, blame it for having warts – gigantic, ugly warts. Or help it discover those warts in a way that affords it a chance to remove those warts. You can spend an equal amount of energy helping voluntourism discover what it is doing well, while reminding it that it still has a long way to go.

Living here in Bolivia, it is easy to see my own warts. But I am seeing that there is something underneath those warts, waiting to come forth, once those warts are removed. You wouldn’t decapitate someone because they have warts, right? Voluntourism doesn’t need a guillotine; it needs some liquid nitrogen applied with concentration and skill, or a scalpel handled in the same manner. If you make the choice to do so, you can be exactly that by demonstrating a way of doing voluntourism that takes into consideration all of the things you hold dear, and you can write about that, and share it with others. Or not. The beauty is that you have a choice. And that is what I love about voluntourism. If you do it, how you do it, or not – it will always be a choice. For me, I can’t travel any other way. Perhaps one day that will be the case for you, too.

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Final Thoughts...

Words like "fake," "bogus," "callous," "crooks," and "gullibility" lead us to form a certain perspective about, in this case, voluntourism. Given that there is plenty of credence to the stories delivered by Chloe Lambert in her article, one could take the perspective that voluntourism is downright awful, takes advantage of small children, and has no desire to care for animals. Is this really the case? I do not think it is the intent, anyway.

However, if you look at Dr. O'Fallon's work and you start to dive into the persepectives that flow from certain levels of human development, you can really begin to manifest some understanding as to why a local business person would "use orphans" to make money. If those children really aren't "orphans," are the owners of the "orphanages" violating some custom or law within their own cultures? It is an interesting question, no? If these "proprietors" can give these kids, which really are not orphans, a chance to interact with Westerners, can that be so bad for the kids? These kids have at least one parent, after all. They won't be abandoned. And maybe they can learn something from the visitors. And "I" can make money at the same time. Everybody wins! Right?

We can apply this across the board in every destination where voluntourism is operating. In each location, it is being operated from a certain perspective. If we can begin to understand these perspectives, really understand them, we can begin to foster growth and development in how voluntourism, itself, is developed. If this is the kind of operation one is running, here is how it can be improved. Shutting it down is akin to putting someone in a prison cell - is any development likely to happen in such a space? Highly unlikely.

Voluntourism, to me, is an expression of human, individual/collective development. We are not witnessing one person traveling to a destination to volunteer, we are witnessing millions upon millions doing so, with even more awaiting the opportunity to do so. A certain perspective is emerging which sees the benefit for self and other, indvidual and collective. Can we, therefore, guide voluntourism to develop both itself and the collective which connects with it? This is one of the tasks that lies before us. Perchance, as researchers like Dr. O'Fallon help us to see more clearly the perspectives which presently shape the world within and around us, we can use these tools to improve voluntourism. Then, we will really have something about which we will feel quite privileged to write.

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