Volunteer Travel changes lives apparently. But whose lives are being impacted upon and can this impact possibly be of a positive and sustainable nature?
There is a world of difference, literally between what amounts to a cosy package holiday in a luxurious destination turtle watching and actually working in areas that are deprived of any economic stability [ not not the UK!] and ahve little or no means of building a self sustaining system to support the needs of people that live there. And we are talking of people that live on less than 10 cents per day.
Volunteer Travel is claimed to be of a life-changing nature for the individual traveller due to the volunteer pursuing work at the heart of a community, which is desired to help the latter reach an anticipated goal or support the locals in getting one step closer to it. A volunteer traveller could find him-/ herself teaching a language, caring for disadvantaged children, needy animals or the environment, while living the life of a local. Volunteers do not get paid for their work and thus are not and will not become a burden to the local economy. However many volunteer companies are making obscene profits from charging individuals to join their partner projects abroad and experience a culture from within for only a short period of time. Is this the flipside to the shiny volunteer travel coin or are such businesses and their volunteers responsible for gradual but sustainable change taking place in communities across the world?
Sustainability and responsibility are terms often coined when the value of volunteer travel is considered. But what does it mean to participate in a responsible and sustainable project? A volunteer project should not be about the nedds of the volunteer! A foreign country should not be seen a a training ground for gap year leavers to discover what they don't know .Volunteers that make a difference should be taken from a mature audience of individuals willing and driven to make a positive difference to others’ lives and surroundings while making good use of the opportunity of being part of a different culture and community rather than vice versa.
Businesses, as for instance i-to-i UK Ltd and Real Gap Experience for example who are clearly determined to make a profit should thus be obliged to make sure that they cooperate with local projects rather than imposing their own onto the community. This would encourage individuals to spend time abroad and help a local community. Volunteer travel should be about improving and opening horizons and done responsibly – in cooperation with the local community – and sustainably – on a regular basis with long term effects – it could, slowly but surely, help to make the world a better place and be a incredible life-changing experience for both the traveller and host community.