Voluntoursim, which is the act of volunteering in a local community whilst also traveling (Oxford Dictionaries 2015) is a fad that has grown to become an essential part of any young persons travelling experience.
Photos of tourists amidst groups of what appear to be overly happy children in orphanages or schools have become all too common.
And whilst these photos may look wonderful and make voluntoursim appear to be the perfect idea for any person wanting to see the world, whilst also trying to better it, the sad reality is that voluntoursim can cause more harm than good.
Me to We is one of the many voluntourism companies that offers “volunteering” trips to countries such as India, Ecuador or in this case Kenya, and promotes itself as providing a volunteering adventure experience all in one.
The problem with companies like this, is that despite what they claim, the focus is less about the act of volunteering or the communities actual needs, and more about cashing in on volunteers quest for experience (Zakaria, 2014) by exploiting vulnerable communities as a way of offering “the ultimate African experience” which can be seen on their website alone .
One of Me to We’s $6,176 AUD (flights NOT included) volunteering trips to Kenya, advertised with pictures of Kenyan children and voluntourists posing with shovels and plastered with the phrase volunteering, marketers itself as a trip designed to better the local Kenyan community.
Once reading through the 9 day itinerary (Me to We) however, it is evident that this trip is nothing more than using the Kanyan community to enrich a tourist’s as a holiday they can leave from feeling better about themselves as the trip includes:
2 days in a hotel
a visit to a giraffe centre
a total of 1 day visiting (not teaching) 2 schools
a visit to a Kanyan market
1 & 1/2 days of lay brick for a school
a tree garden tour
a half a day visit to a medical clinic
a sunrise safari
a sunset safari
participate in making hand crafted souvenirs
and my personal favourite….
Planting a tree in your legacy… All before heading back to a hotel for 2 days and flying home.
Like any other form of tourism, voluntourism has become a $2 billion dollar a year industry (Kahn, 2014), and like all industries, it’s prime interest is in creating profit. Sadly, in the case of volunturism, this comes at time where the international gap between rich and poor has widened (Mohamud , 2013) and through the explosion of vulnerable communities, these companies can use empathy to advertise and enhance northern travellers cultural experience.
Whilst industries like Me to We that require $6,176 for only 2 days of any actual volunteering, continue to operate, not only will vulnerable communities globally continue to be treated as tourist attractions that are to be pitied, but as these companies will continue to send the message that 2 days is enough to fix big social issues, reinforcing the idea that if you just have good intentions change will happen instantly (Jesionka, 2015), the meaning of volunteering will be lost to a whole generation to come.
Jesionka, N 2015, The Realist of Voluntourism and Conservation We’re Not Having, The Muse, viewed 29 August 2015, <https://www.themuse.com/advice/the-reality-of-voluntourism-and-the-conversations-were-not-having>.
Kahn, C 2014, ‘As ‘Voluntourism’ Explodes In Popularity, Who’s It Helping Most?’, NPR, 31 July, viewed 29 August 2015, <http://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2014/07/31/336600290/as-volunteerism-explodes-in-popularity-whos-it-helping-most>.
Mohamud, O 2013, Beware the ‘voluntourists’ doing good, The Guardian, viewed 29 August 2015, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/13/beware-voluntourists-doing-good>.
Sample Itinerary, Me to We, viewed 29 August 2015, <http://www.metowe.com/volunteer-travel/adult-family-trips/kenya/itinerary/>.
Voluntourism, Oxford Dictionaries, viewed 29 August 2015, http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/voluntourism.
Zakaria, R 2014, ‘The white tourist burden’, Aljazeera America, 21 April, viewed 29 August 2015, <http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/4/volunter-tourismwhitevoluntouristsafricaaidsorphans.html>.