VT Cast #1: What Is VolunTourism?
What is the relationship between voluntary service and travel & tourism? Can these industries really unite to form a cooperative alignment to deliver socio-economic benefits? And what is the nature of these ex-periences for the traveler? In this VT Cast, guests offer answers to these questions and provide their own working definitions of VolunTourism.
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Richard Brooks, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Christina Heyniger, Founder of Xola Consulting, Elisa Sabatini, Executive Director of Los Niños, Inc. [Guest Bios]
"VolunTourism is something that changes the way we see the world and it changes the way the world sees us. It really does work both ways. So, again, there may not be one word beyond Volun-Tourism that describes it but there certainly are references to experience, firsthand personal experience, where tourism, travel, service and learning all fit together in a way that is seamless." Richard Brooks
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"This thing is tourism, this thing is not; this thing is adventure, and this one is not; this is voluntourism, and this is not is almost an academic exercise. And from our perspective in trying to gage that for our industry [adventure travel] we learned that it really, it almost doesn’t matter except to the people within it; because travelers are out there doing what they’re going to do anyway." Christina Heyniger
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"It’s the whole spectrum of things – from disaster initiatives, disaster mitigation initiatives, charitable activities, and then contributing to people’s capacity to build self-reliance. You can really create a voluntourism experience in any of those scenarios." Elisa Sabatini
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Richard Brooks, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Rick Brooks is a former U.S. representative for Sarvodaya – a nonprofit, community development organization with operations in Sri Lanka. The Sarvodaya Shramadana Movement started 47 years ago. Sarvodaya is Sanskrit for "Awakening of All,” and Shramadana means to donate effort.
He has lived in Mexico, Peru, Jamaica and Tunisia, and has led study-service tours to Japan and Sri Lanka. A community development and social marketing specialist, he is the founder of Where We Live, an international education program which promotes understanding of communities "from the bottom up."
He is a program outreach manager and instructor in a cross-disciplinary course entitled e-Projects in Community Service at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Christina Heyniger, Founder of Xola Consulting
Christina Heyniger is a management consultant specializing in adventure travel and voluntourism. She founded her consulting practice, Xola Consulting, in 2004 to work with enterprising businesses in the adventure travel industry. Xola, which in the South African Xhosa language means ‘stay in peace,’ was founded on the belief that niche forms of tourism such as adventure travel have the power to positively transform both travelers and the destinations they visit, bridging divisions between people and nations.
Prior to founding Xola, Christina worked for eight years as management consultant in a range of industries - aerospace, communications, higher education, federal government – and supported large enterprises on projects at various levels within the organization – from strategic planning at the executive level to operations procedures within individual divisions.
Inspired by her adventure travel experiences, and seeking a way to contribute in a field close to her passions, Christina shifted her professional focus to the adventure travel industry in 2004. Since then she has supported adventure travel tour operators, blended adventure-voluntourism organizations, industry associations, and travel companies promoting sustainable development.
In 2005 Christina created Off the Radar, a newsletter to support responsible entrepreneurial adventure travel operators around the world. As an associate with the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Christina promotes voluntourism’s mission objectives at industry conferences and in the ATTA’s industry publication, Adventure Travel News.
Christina is an Associate with the Adventure Travel Trade Association and is on the board of directors for an adventure travel/voluntourism company, the Outdoor Industry Women's Coalition, and a consumer travel magazine launching in 2007. She holds a BA in Communication from Cornell University, an MA in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University, and an MBA with a concentration in Entrepreneurship from American University.
Elisa Sabatini, Executive Director of Los Niños, Inc.
Elisa Sabatini serves as the Executive Director for Los Niños, Inc. She is responsible for providing strategic direction, supervising staff, creating new programs, and securing all resources for activities in Mexico, the United States and Canada. Program areas include family health, nutrition, micro-finance, sustainable agriculture, community organizing and development education. In 2003, the VolunTours™ “social business” joined the family of Los Niños’ programs.
Elisa formerly served with World SHARE for fourteen years. She served as Mexico Director (1984-87) involving food movement and storage, inventories, community development projects, program proposals, fundraising and evaluation. As Country Director in Guatemala (1987-91), Elisa set up systems, trained staff in accounting software, developed food handling and warehouse manuals, designed program proposals in the areas of maternal child health, agroforestry, infrastructure development and community banks/income generation.
Elisa was named the World SHARE Regional Director for Latin America (1992-98) and coordinated participatory processes to create an autonomous SHARE organization in Guatemala as well as develop self-funding food distribution in Mexico and a rural agricultural loan fund. In Mexico, the Compartamos (SHARE) program is now the largest micro credit initiative in the country. Elisa joined Los Niños, Inc. in 1998.