10 Commandments of Voluntourism

The Voluntourism Institute is going to start a project in 2014 that addresses the fact that opinions on voluntourism are “…generated from every angle except that of host communities.”.

Won’t this new project just perpetuate the model that all of us (presumably) are against — where outsiders lead the way in helping locals??

Why aren’t locals themselves organizing such a project? Why aren’t they taking the initiative in letting us tour operators know what the best practices are? Where are their blogs and websites and Ted Talks and LinkedIn groups and Meetups?

And don’t say it’s because it’s too hard for locals to get connected! Today I was on WhatsApp with a friend in Ghana. She basically has no income and lives in a crappy ghetto. Yet she is able to call and text and share photos with me 5k miles away!

Dusty backroads of Accra, Ghana

(Every week I get dozens of emails from legitimate NGO’s, host families and potential staff in Africa and India and everywhere else — all asking me to send volunteers and/or hire them. Not to mention tons of LinkedIn requests etc. I’m sure most tour operators in this field have similar experiences.)

So what’s the real reason that “host communities” in the Third-World aren’t giving their opinion about the problems with voluntourism?

It’s money of course. We all know it. If I were in their shoes I would do the same thing. Why risk pissing off the foreigners who are sometimes (unfortunately) one of the few steady sources of income in the local community.

Yes, we as voluntourism operators should press on and constantly try to improve our approach and methods of helping others. It really does start and end with listening to locals and learning firsthand about their unique communities and cultures and problems (IMHO).

But I wish that we as the outsiders didn’t have to be the ones leading the way in trying to capture as well as disseminate the opinions that members of local host communities have about voluntourism. It seems like the same type of paternalism that all legitimate tour operators feel is bad and wish would go away.

I’m seriously ready for the Ghanaians or Peruvians or Indians or the Thai people to come up with a “10 Commandments of Voluntourism”. Then make us foreigners stick to them — or else locals kick us out of their communities until we change our ways.

Bring on the tablets!!