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Want to get paid while traveling? Voluntarism is the key!

Aeshwarya Singh Mundel | Updated on: 13 March 2018, 11:46 IST

Voluntourism, mixing pleasure with voluntary work! Voluntourism is the new interest trending across the horizon! An origin of the 1990s, the term ‘voluntourism’ is a fusion of the words ‘voluntary’ and ‘tourism’, a near synonym for the adage, “mixing business with pleasure”!

With the increasing pressures at work as also the growing emphasis on the ‘gap year’ concept, people are opening up to the idea of traveling for pleasure. Add to this the widening purse strings and people exploring virgin destinations.

While some prefer their ‘me time’ where they can temporarily detach themselves from the hustle-bustle of everyday activities and the incessant on-the-job calls, others are being lured by the idea of getting away from the mundane life yet, to ‘be useful to society’! The fact that they can mix their travel plans with voluntary ‘jobs’ paints a pretty attractive picture for many!

The everexpanding social media platforms have brought the ‘other side of the world’ virtually into our bedrooms, nay into our palms. Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and the likes tick by minute to flash the most exciting opportunities and irresistible offers on the one hand and the dismal pictures of the war-torn Syria, the pathetically thin and hungry children of Ethopia on the other hand...making one feel virtually guilty of spending one’s hard earned money on one’s leisure trips while a large section of the world lies vulnerable to abject poverty, hunger, racism and war!

What better way to atone your guilt than volunteer while you travel on your vacations is the concept behind voluntourism! And, attractively packaged, the tour and travel agencies are selling this idea to their potential clients. The idea of mixing social work with pleasure lures many. For the youngsters its some brownie points earned in their kitty of social service; for the adults it offers a change from monotonous vacationing, a chance to actually interact, and not just objectively view from afar, with people of a different category and culture. For those bitten by the bug of philanthropy, such vacations give an ideal set up to do justice to their morale!

The trend of voluntourism has come about largely through initiatives by well established international organizations such as UNICEF, CARE International, World Vision, Save the Children and the likes, which attempt to raise funds on basis of compassion and humanity for programmes they have developed for the vulnerable and depraved sections. There is, however, a flip side to voluntoursim. The critics of this fast emerging global trend are quick to attack the voluntourists for their limited capacity to contribute. The student volunteers, they criticise as being amateur humanitarian workers most of whom are into it for add-ons to their projects rather than for actual social service. Ill equipped with relevant skills, they lack long term involvement and commitment.

Research on the subject too suggests that those who engage in voluntourism programmes, especially the younger lot, to the contrary, tend to perpetuate the mystification of the larger global systems that produce inequality, poverty, various forms of violence and war and particular patterns of disease distribution.

The answer to the criticism lies in finding a middle path where the voluntourism programmes can be reframed and reworked to be able to truly contribute towards cross cultural interactions and engagements in today’s increasingly violent and xenophobic world. People volunteering should be made to realize that those they work with are citizens with rights like them, rather than mere ‘objects of charity’, and that their contribution perpetrates cultural exchange and not just short-term humanitarian relief!

The next time you pack your bags for a voluntourism package, make sure to do some homework about the history, politics, culture and traditions of the destination country in order to leave behind a legacy of effective change, however small.

First published: 6 December 2017, 16:49 IST
Aeshwarya Singh Mundel

#Mustang with a knack for traveling & writing~