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Volume 2 Issue 3 - Wisdom & Insight
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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.

Wisdom & Insight

VolunTourism: Discovering Cultural & Individual Wealth

Is "wealth" a word that we truly understand? If so, why do we have such challenge in comprehending the happiness and joy of people who have seemingly nothing of material value? Perhaps a refresher course on the origin of wealth will assist us.

If you have had exposure to other cultures, you are, perhaps, aware that the word “wealth” has different contexts and definitions other than those attached to the financial and material realm. In fact, if you review the etymology of the word “wealth,” the root is from the word “weal,” an Old English word dating back to 1200 A.D., according to the Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology. It is “a noun meaning ‘well-being, prosperity, and happiness.’”

The “th” was not added until fifty years later; subsequently, the word “weal” became associated with “prosperity in abundance and possession of riches,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

In the developed world, in particular, the “possession of riches” has become the most commonly associated definition of wealth. It has, therefore, delivered a message to the entire world that anything offered in contradistinction to this – i.e., “non-possession of riches,” is labeled with the derisive tag of “poverty.”

How did two letters (“th”) and fifty years forever shift our mode of thinking from a “weal” of “well-being, prosperity, and happiness” to a “wealth” of “prosperity in abundance and possession of riches”? The more important question is really this: Is it possible for us to return to an understanding of real “wealth” being defined in these terms - “well-being, prosperity, and happiness” – and if so, can VolunTourism contribute to our realization of this?

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What Is Wealth – As Well-Being, Prosperity & Happiness?

In the January 17, 2005 issue of Time Magazine, more than 40 pages of discussion on the topic of happiness and well-being were provided. (To review the feature article, click here)

In terms of financial wealth, here is what the article had to say:

“Take wealth, for instance, and all the delightful things that money can buy. Research by Diener, [Edward Diener, PhD, nicknamed Dr. Happiness] among others, has shown that once your basic needs are met, additional income does little to raise your sense of satisfaction with life.” Dr. Diener concludes the opening salvo of What Makes Us Happy with these words: “Word needs to be spread… It is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy.”

A table of information is provided later in the article in answer to the following question: “What are your major sources of happiness?” Here are the top 8 answers per the article:

#1 – Your relationship with your children

#2 – Your friends and friendships

#3 – Contributing to the lives of others

#4 – Your relationship with spouse/partner or your love life

#5 – Your degree of control over your life and destiny

#6 – The things you do in your leisure time

#7 – Your relationship with your parents

#8 – Your religious or spiritual life and worship

Not one mentions the accumulation of material riches and possessions. One could argue that it is only possible to pursue these other options if material wealth is present, but I would suggest visiting another land to prove the contrary.

In reviewing these, we could say that a VolunTourism experience with the “love of your life,” a couple of friends, your kids, if you have any, and your parents could quite possibly cover all of the items listed, especially if you processed your experience via your spiritual practice!

All kidding aside, the point here is that “wealth” needs to be redefined and it starts right now as you begin to prepare yourself, or your clients, or your suppliers, or the residents with whom you will be working for future VolunTourism opportunities.

VolunTourism & Basic Needs

In reviewing “Dr. Happiness’” words and the importance of meeting basic needs to support happiness, we should look at what exactly they are considered to be.

Dr. A. T. Ariyaratne, founder of the Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement in 1958, has identified the following basic needs:

1. A clean and beautiful environment

2. Adequate provision of clean drinking water

3. Minimal supplies of clothing

4. Adequate and balanced nutrition

5. Simple housing

6. Basic health care

7. Basic communication facilities

8. A minimal supply of energy

9. Holistic education

10. Satisfaction of intellectual and cultural needs

Roger Elliott, provides different language to describe similar concepts under a heading of 9 Basic Needs for Good Mental Health and Emotional Well-Being via the Uncommon Knowledge Web site.

And there are countless other explanations of what may be considered our basic human needs whether one relates to Abraham Maslow or others and whether one is discussing the physical, mental, or spiritual body.

The Intersection: Wealth Points & Poverty Points

If we consider basic human needs to be part of our already existing, and ever-accumulating pile of “wealth,” we must realize that they can be taken away at any time. We must also be cognizant of the fact that other people in other lands may very well have other elements of happiness, as described under the “What are your major sources of happiness?”, but may not have some of their basic human needs fulfilled.

To state it differently, everyone has some degree of wealth as it pertains to well-being, prosperity, and happiness. Likewise, everyone has a dearth in supply, or poverty if you will, when it comes to either basic human needs or a lack of those “sources of happiness.” The degree or extent to which wealth is accumulated or relinquished is primarily determined by how we contribute to the wealth accumulation of others. I call our specific cultural or individual wealth - our “wealth points.” We must analyze ourselves and determine what our “wealth points” are; in turn we must be equally introspective in unearthing our “poverty points.”

When we discover our “wealth points” and “poverty points” it is then up to us to determine how we can:

  • Support the growth of others’ in replacing their poverty through the strength of our “wealth points,” and
  • Prepare ourselves to receive the wealth of others, especially those who seemingly have no material wealth, whatsoever, to shore up the areas in which we are most impoverished.

Our cultural and individual wealth & poverty points may not be immediately evident to us, of course. It is particularly difficult to think of oneself and/or one’s culture as being in “poverty.” But if we think of it instead as a mechanism for creating linkages and connections with others and the importance thereof, then we can slowly cultivate a real understanding about the nature of the world in which we live. This, of course, holds true in our relations to the other beings on this planet – plants and animals alike.

VolunTourism and the Reciprocity of Wealth

Without travel and the subsequent interaction with others, we will not satisfy the law of supply and demand that is at work here. Economics tells us that in order to create a market one must bring together the buyers and the sellers. The intriguing feature of the VolunTourism marketplace is that the participants are playing both roles - supplier and consumer. How well you rehearse your roles, prior to your departure, and how well you play your roles once you are on the stage will determine the level of satisfaction and fulfillment that you achieve as the result of your journey. Real transformation will be measured in terms of your degree of happiness before, during, and after your visit and whether you sense that your “wealth” has truly increased as a result.

It starts with redefining our terms of poverty and wealth and removing an age-old tradition of misconception in this area. We will then be better prepared to engage in, functioning as either a deliverer of or a participant in, a VolunTourism experience. The more clearly we can define the exchange that occurs, how each partner – supplier, operator, resident, and participant – can facilitate this exchange, how to process the exchange, and how to build on the momentum created through the exchange, the more meaningful VolunTourism will prove to be. Let’s see what we can do to build our supply of global wealth over the next 800 years!

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