Can We Mend Not End Voluntourism?

In September, Outbounding launched this fantastic “Can we Mend Not End Voluntourism?” forum debate.

There’s an awful lot of information in the 100+ comments and it’s a little tricky to follow chronologically now as the comments are ordered by their popularity on the upvoting system, but you can read interesting perspectives from key voices from the sector on a variety of issues which voluntourism throws up.

The popularity of this forum debate equally led to Outbounding organising this ‘Can We Mend Not End Voluntourism?’ hangout.


I was asked to participate on the hangout, but unfortunately I was travelling in Nepal at the time and not able to access at the required time. However host Ethan Gelber did kindly involve me indirectly by including (at 15 mins 30 secs) as a starting point for discussion a comment I made on the original forum debate:

“The downside is that enough people are not educated in the negative impacts that irresponsible volunteer tourism can have. There is the absolute assumption that it is all positive. There is the absolute assumption that if intent is good, impact is good. We know from studies around the world that these absolutes are not true. “

Watch the hangout for a fantastic response from Anna McKeon regarding how we can help  people better understand what they are doing, by separating the ‘how’ they are trying to help from the ‘why’ they are trying to help: separating the mission from the method, the emotion from practice. As Sallie Grayson points out, most volunteers are on a mission and want to do good, but few understanding or researching the complexity of the work and issues, with even universities and schools failing young people in that regard currently.

Further topics discussed include definitions on voluntourism versus volunteer tourism and volunteering, skilled and unskilled work (if you can’t do it in your own country, why do you expect to be able to do it abroad?), duration of programmes, whether voluntourism devalues volunteering and what the future holds.

Further to the debate, a #MendNotEnd Outbounding forum group has been created which breaks down questions and issues of voluntourism into sections.

You can also check out at the hangout’s parallel Twitter stream for #MendNotEnd for contributors and comments.

As mentioned at the end of the hangout, the debate and hangout have also contributed to a ebook which Ethan has put together, to which I have contributed, to look at where the industry is today, to share the questions that people can and should ask, and to provide  perspectives on the opportunities that are available: “Adventures Less Ordinary – How to Travel and Do Good“.

This entry was posted in Volunteer tourism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s