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10 Inconvenient Truths About Voluntourism

10 Inconvenient Truths About Voluntourism

Are you attracted by the idea of helping desperate people in Haiti or working with an orphanage in Nepal? The concept of volunteer tourism or voluntourism is a noble and worthy one. But when I started to investigate, I realized that there are some uncomfortable truths that have to be faced before volunteering.

I was shocked to realize what big business this has become. There are well over one and a half million tourists (mostly college students and retirees) who offer their services worldwide every year which is worth about $2 billion. These are the figures quoted in a book Volunteer Tourism- A Global Analysis which provides a fascinating insight into what is often a very murky business, unfortunately.

1. Do you know anything about the volunteer organization?

There are excellent bodies doing Trojan work out there. But there are also some very shady operators who are exploiting, not only the well meaning tourists but the poor people, children and the homeless in the developing world. Here are a few examples:

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  • Costs are high – staff and resources have to be found. Is this the best use of the time and money spent?
  • Many of the 800 orphanages in Nepal, for example, are bogus institutions and unregulated.
  • Unscrupulous operators trick poor people into sending their children to be educated in one of these institutions. In reality, they are neither educated nor fed properly.
  • One Unicef report found that 85% of the children in these so called orphanages in Nepal had at least one living parent.

2. Why not send money instead?

One volunteer who worked in post earthquake Haiti, helping to rebuild homes, found that the actual cost was almost $1,000 per volunteer. Half of that money was spent on building materials and hiring local construction workers. The other half was spent on feeding and housing the volunteers. This volunteer was convinced that sending all the money would have been much more helpful in the long run.

3. Children are abandoned

The volunteers are encouraged, when working in the orphanages, to bond with the children to strengthen the emotional attachment. This, in my view, is a particularly useless and cruel approach. The volunteers will abandon the vulnerable and needy children, once they leave. Many children suffer the trauma of another separation as they are abandoned yet again!

4. Employment could be given to local people

Many volunteers turn up to roll up their sleeves for tough manual or skilled work. There are local, unemployed people who could easily do the work and be paid a fair wage. This would really help to make a difference. The volunteers arrive, work like slaves and leave without making any impact at all on the local economy. In many ways, they have made a bad situation worse!

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5. Are you encouraging a new type of colonialism?

Throughout Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, many countries are still struggling to shake off the shackles of colonialism which have left many unwelcome legacies. Volunteer tourism can interfere with this process of independent and positive growth. This should include long term strategies and help people develop new skills to face local economic challenges. The fact that volunteers are trying to feel good by working in the field is often a hindrance. Much better to do some serious fundraising at home.

6. Are your skills a match for the job?

Most student volunteers know nothing about building or child-rearing. In many cases, senior citizens or retirees are better placed here as they have considerable experience in various jobs and will have a better skills match.  If you are considering voluntourism, think about the project and what skills are required. What are your language skills, social skills, parenting experience, manual skills, and so on? Then, honestly reflect on whether you would be really useful or not

 7. Volunteers come first

“It’s done for the experience of the volunteer. It’s all about the volunteer, with the pretense of helping someone, and I don’t buy it.”- Roger O’Halloran, director of PALMS International.

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Many volunteers are accepted and their needs seem to come first. Lots of expense, time and effort are put into making their experience a memorable and self fulfilling one. They are offered a unique experience which their cosseted upbringing has never allowed. The actual recipients of the aid come a very poor second.

8. Who is really benefiting?

Did you know that many of the ‘fake’ orphans I mentioned above are often cast out on the streets, once the volunteer tourist project ends? They will be forced to beg and be forced into prostitution. This is the time to think about the middlemen and how these organizations are run. Who is really gaining? Very often, the middlemen, travel agencies, and so called institutions are gaining a lot of ready cash.

9. Are you willing to be complicit in child trafficking?

This is the most serious issue of all. Many volunteers are unwittingly entering into the murky world where children are exploited, abused and trafficked. They would be shocked to find out what is really going on.

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10. 10 things to check out before volunteering

  1. Check out the organization you hope to work with. Ask a lot of questions, especially about employing locals, skills sets and costs. You need to know if they are reputable and reliable.
  2. Visit their website and their Facebook page. This is a good way of connecting with past volunteers and learning from them.
  3. Learn about the country you hope to visit. Study the history, culture and economic situation.
  4. Examine honestly your motives and ethics in volunteering. If you are looking for photo-ops, it may be best to consider something else.
  5. If the organization is a religious one, are you comfortable with any preaching or evangelism to be done?
  6. Ask about support and training you will receive if you do decide to go.
  7. Find out about their finances and their involvement with local NGOs. You may want to check out what their goals, ethics and values are.
  8. Be very clear on what the project hopes to achieve and how it will help local initiatives/employment after you leave.
  9. If you decide not to go, consider other ways you can help the organization if you feel it is a worthy one. Do you have IT skills where you could build a website for them?
  10. Consider a financial donation, if you feel that your skills set and physique are not up to it. Check out how they manage their funds, if you can.

Voluntourism is great, if it is carried out responsibly with local people’s needs in mind. If not, it may well be a scam that should be avoided at all costs.

Featured photo credit: Group 20 -015/Visions Service Adventures via flickr.com

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Robert Locke

Author of Ziger the Tiger Stories, a health enthusiast specializing in relationships, life improvement and mental health.

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Last Updated on December 9, 2019

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

5 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress Effectively

Everyone experiences mental stress at one time or another. Maybe you’re starting a new career, job, or business, or you feel incredibly overwhelmed between work, parenting, and your love life (or a lack of it). It could even be that you simply feel that you have way too much to do and not enough time to do it,  plus, on top of everything, nothing seems to be going the way it should!

Yup, we all experience mental stress from time-to-time, and that’s okay as long as you have the tools, techniques and knowledge that allow you to fully relieve it once it comes.

Here are 5 tips for relieving mental stress when it comes so you can function at your best while feeling good (and doing well) in work, love, or life:

1. Get Rationally Optimistic

Mental stress starts with your perception of your experiences. For instance, most people get stressed out when they perceive their reality as “being wrong” in some way. Essentially, they have a set idea of how things “should be” at any given moment, and when reality ends up being different (not even necessarily bad), they get stressed.

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This process is simply a result of perception and can be easily “fixed” by recognizing that although life might not always be going as YOU think it should, it’s still going as it should—for your own benefit.

In fact, once you fully recognize that everything in your life ultimately happens for your own growth, progress, and development—so you can achieve your goals and dreams—your perception works in your favor. You soon process and respond to your experience of life differently, for your advantage. That’s the essence of becoming “rationally optimistic.”

The result: no more mental stress.

2. Unplug

Just like you might need to unplug your computer when it starts acting all crazy, you should also “unplug” your mind.

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How on earth do you unplug your mind? Simple: just meditate.

It isn’t nearly difficult or complicated as some people think, so, if you don’t already meditate, give it a try. Whether you meditate for 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours, this is a surefire way to reduce mental stress.

Meditation has been scientifically proven to relax your body (resulting in less mental stress), while also reducing anxiety and high blood pressure.

3. Easy on the Caffeine

Yes, we know, we know—everyone loves a nice java buzz, and that’s okay, but there’s a fine line between a small caffeine pick-me-up and a racing heart and mind that throws you into a frenzy of mental stress.

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Try giving up caffeine for a while and see how you feel. And, if that’s completely out of the question for you, at least try to minimize it. You might find that lots of your mental stress mysteriously “disappears” as your caffeine intake goes down.

4. Attack Mental Stress Via the Back Door

That’s right: your body and mind are part of the whole being, and are constantly influencing and affecting each other. If you’re experiencing a lot of mental stress, try to reduce it by calming your body down—a calm body equals a calmer mind.

How do you calm your body down and reduce physical stress? A  great way to reduce physical stress (thereby reducing mental stress) is to take natural supplements that are proven to reduce stress and anxiety while lifting your mood. Three good ones to look into are kava-kava, St John’s wort, and rhodiola rosea:

  • Kava-kava is a natural plant known to have mild sedative properties, and you should be able to find it at your natural health food store or vitamin store. It’s available in capsules or liquid extract form.
  • St John’s wort is a natural flower used to treat depression. Again, it’s found at your local health store in capsules or liquid. Because it uplifts mood (enabling you to see the brighter side of all experiences) it helps relieve mental stress as well.
  • Rhodiola rosea is a natural plant shown to reduce stress and uplift mood, and Russian athletes have been using it forever. Like the other two supplements mentioned, rhodiola rosea can be found at your natural health store in capsule or liquid form.

While these supplements are all natural and can be very helpful for most people, always check with your health care provider first as they can cause side-effects depending on your current health situation etc.

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5. Good Old-Fashioned Exercise

This tip has been around forever because it works. Nothing relieves mental stress like running, kickboxing—you name it. Anything super-physical will wipe out most of your mental stresses once the exercise endorphins (happy chemicals) are released into your brain.

The result: mental stress will be gone!

So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or just plain stressed, try using some of the above tips. You can even print this out or save it to refer to regularly.

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Featured photo credit: Radu Florin via unsplash.com

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