A pattern has begun in the current years, where people take part in organizations that commonly claim to be helping developing countries. This trend is sustained by the gap year phenomenon, which is specified as “a time period between 3 and 24 months taken out of education or a work career.” (Jones, 2004) With interest of “making a difference”, increasingly more people choose voluntourism, combination of tourism and volunteer projects, as their gap year holiday option. In spite of the well-intended enthusiasm, opinions regarding the contribution of voluntourism on regional community are divided.
The primary issue of debate is whether voluntourism offer aid to the local communities. While some scientists utilizing studies find local people satisfied with volunteer tourists, other research study investigating quality, tasks, inspiration and local need of voluntourism have discovered it doing more harm than excellent. Such a hazardous pattern has actually made the UK director of VSO, one of the baggiest and earliest global development charity, warn “Young people desire to make difference through volunteering, however they would much better off travelling … rather than squandering time on jobs that have no impact …” (Ward, 2007).
In this paper, we will assess both side of the debate and carefully assess the worth of voluntourism for regional neighborhood. In order to assess the benefit offered by volunteer travelers, it is essential to look at the quality of the helpers. Unskilled volunteers might be a burden to local neighborhoods that need to look after them. As Stephan peck, operations director at the Scout Association, puts it” [bad volunteers] are like a cancer” (Ainsworth, 2012).
Therefore, the volunteer selection process is important in recruiting required and suitable volunteers that benefit regional communities. While fans of voluntourism claims those volunteers as satisfying, checking out their selection experience will make it clear that these tourists are hardly certified as helpful volunteers.. Research done by Richard Forsythe in Ghana vlountourism showed that only 36% of all studied volunteer applicants in various fields went through application process more complicated than filling application forms, and “no individuals remarked upon the selection process as a particularly challenging experience, and indeed several of the organizations interviewed admitted to accepting ‘almost all volunteers’ having ‘very few requirements, and taking ‘anyone who is interested’”(Forsythe, 2011).
Recruitment through application forms or basic information can only depend on the self-evaluation of applicants, who probably had no volunteering experience, as to whether they will be helpful to the local community. With such a lenient selection, the volunteers selected are much more likely to be burden than help to local volunteers and community who cry out: “A lot of people have very unrealistic expectations about overseas volunteering, and they want to be there for only a month or less and have no skills that are critically needed in the developing world” (Huang, 2012). People may expect those unqualified volunteers to receive some training before starting work, but research has also showed that volunteer tourists receive almost no training. When they do receive information, much of it is about the culture and language, safety and packing with little attention toward the skills and duties involved within the volunteer placements (Forsythe, 2011).
Furthermore, no more than half the volunteers received supervision or guidance during the placement (Forsythe, 2011). The organization’s local presence is indispensible for placements’ appropriate, long-term effectiveness and safety of volunteers. With the growing number of teenagers participating in volunteer tours, supervision and protection by organization are vital. However, some volunteers set out with enthusiastic motivation ends up in a awkward situation as Hannah Saunders, a gap year volunteer: “When I arrived…they didn’t know I was coming or what to do with me.” (Ward, 2007) Although the volunteers’ intention maybe beneficial, they are unqualified, untrained and unguided. Such groups of volunteers can hardly provide any high-quality help that is needed by local communities.
Supporters of voluntourism may cling onto the motivation behind voluntourism to justify the trend. Indeed, motivation is also a factor often discussed when talking about the benefits of voluntourism. Supporters of voluntourism argue actions that come from altruistic intension to help, although may not provide substantial help, are at least better than nothing. The supporters say that by just participating and showing concern, it is already helping the people in dispair. It is literally, “you are the difference!” With the belief in altruism, people advertise voluntourism, “in which enthusiasm and good intentions are allowed to prevail” (Simpson, 2004). However, it seems the good intension behind voluntourism is not enough to be allowed to “prevail”. While many people wish to believe that motivation behind volunteering abroad is purely altruistic, research using evolutionally, social psychological, organizational and game theoretic literature as framework, has found that, in general, people volunteered most often when personal benefits are high (Murnighan, Kim, & Metzger, 1993).
Consistent with this result, almost all authors of articles about voluntourism, even the supporters, agree that voluntourism does not come from purely altruistic motivation. Despite the difference in motivational factors concluded by different authors, all of them agree that these motivations outweigh altruism (Forsythe, 2011;Corti, Marola, & Castro, 2010;Wearing 2001; Brown, 2005; Cohen, Reichel, Shwartz, & Uriely, 2002; Tosun, 2000; Unstead-Jones, 2008). It is commonly agreed that volunteer tourists plan to satisfy the needs of communities through meeting their own needs such as “experiencing cultures”. If actions from altruism intention are the ones that give hope and “prevail”, voluntourism with self-centered motivation is not one. Furthermore, less concern in local community than in self-gain may result in idealized, incorrect assumption about local needs. Reflecting this worry about incorrect assumption, Sacha Brown, Program Manager of World Youth International, a NGO taking volunteers overseas for their development projects says, “ there is a lot of development that is useless and is based on erroneous assumptions around what is ‘best’ for the community or country” (Huang, 2012).
Inexperienced volunteers’ erroneous expectations on local needs, together with their self-centered concerns, make them concentrate on their own enjoyment without examining what help is needed. Organizations that seek to profit from voluntourism may increase rather than reduce neglect of local need. The director of VSO is worried that competition between organizations may lead to more emphasis on volunteer enjoyment and “may not deliver the maximum benefits to the communities these people are working in”. (Huang, 2012) Indeed, one of the organizations interviewed by Forsythe implied that its placements were driven by preferences of volunteers rather than local needs. It is not only researchers who are concerned about whether volunteering tourists’ helps are actually needed. Some volunteers interviewed by Justine Tillon express their feeling of lack of acceptance by local government and citizens. Some of them felt that “the government and local citizens are forced to be helped by the participants”. When there is evidence that help is “forced” on local people, maybe we should really ask ourselves: “Does this kind of help make a peaceful word?” All has been said, some supporters may provide research that show local satisfaction toward volunteer tourists.
One of such research about Moroccan students’ satisfaction toward foreign volunteer teachers of French and English showed 79% of appreciation (Corti et al., 2010). The rate is indeed high, but we should look closer into this study. The job of the volunteers studied is to give English and French classes during vacation of school year. Out of 253 students who enrolled, 32.41% left to travel with their parents in the middle of classes (Corti et al., 2010). Although the desistance rate already implies that local community regards the classes as unserious holiday childcare rather than structured learning experience, several other questions can be raised against results of this and similar other studies. First, does the rate actually reflect the work done by volunteer teachers? The improvement in student’s language skills is not measured in the study.
Since it was students who answered those surveys, it is questionable whether they looked at bigger picture and thought the experience educating or they were just excited to see foreigners. Inferring from previous evaluation of quality, training and supervision of volunteers, these teachers are likely to be unqualified as teachers. Of course supporters may say that the satisfaction rate is indeed the proof that the volunteers are qualified. That raises a second question. Is it voluntourism per se that is benefiting? Do they have to be volunteer tourists or they can be anyone? Considering that English and French are both official language of Morocco, classes given by mixture of nonnative and native speakers of the languages may hardly made any difference from that by local Moroccans who speak both languages. It is not clear whether the 79% satisfaction was toward “volunteers from abroad” or “people who helped”.
Questions about the tourists’ help per se have been studied in different contexts. Study in Gahanna showed that many volunteers are placed in daily tasks and traditional chores such as bathing, dressing, feeding and supervising of children, that can be done by anyone else (Fosythe, 2011). To justify voluntourism itself, studies about unique benefit of voluntourism need be carried out. Through this paper, we have evaluated the quality, motivation and local need of voluntourism.
While there are some studies showing satisfactions toward voluntourism presented, several essential questions are raised. Through evaluation, it became clear that volunteer tourists are unskilled, authentically motivated, and to certain extent, unwelcomed. Although it may be a valuable experience for tourists, it seems that voluntourism carry few value, if not harm, to local community. Whether or not it is primary desire, the desire to volunteer is laudable. However, we need to tread more carefully, especially when dealing with people who are already suffering. Unless we have enough knowledge and transferrable skills, we might do better to travel and bring money into developing countries.