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lack of accountability. Questions are increasingly being raised over
misconceived idealism – indubitably exploited as this, after all, is the
prerogative of teens – and the true value and costs of voluntourism
with regard to the sustainability. It has been dismissed as a ‘new
future for aid’.
You need to choose your destination carefully which, as Mark Jacobs,
the managing director of Azafady, a small London-based charity
working in Madagascar on sustainable development, community and
conservation projects with volunteering placements, observes can
be difficult. 'There's so much noise out there in the form of big travel
companies charging exorbitant amounts for volunteering holidays
set up with only profit and entertainment in mind’. He's not joking:
a 12-day Encounter with Elephants that’s high on luxury, lower on
‘activity’ will set you back just short of US$4,000 excluding flights.
Now that really is a Guilt Trip, if ever there was one.
But the week was also a good choice because sea life is something
Hattie already has an interest in. There is little point in urging a teen
in the direction of something you might feel will be good for them
if they hold no passion for the subject. It’s a waste of your money
and their time, and a bored teenager is a recipe for disaster: all that
energy and nowhere to put it – except perhaps local brew and ganja.
Christopher Hill, founder and managing director of Hands Up
Holidays, a UK-based eco-luxury voluntourism travel company
that organises tailor-made vacations that typically have a 25-30%
volunteering component, argues that the growing voluntourism trade
is a good thing.
Well, he would, wouldn’t he? He justifies the extra costs that
accompany volunteering holidays, ‘because people aren’t just
paying for a holiday, there is also a donation to a project involved,
too.’ He disagrees that voluntourism is the New Aid. ‘It is important
to remember voluntourism and aid work are two distinct markets,
appealing to two completely different groups'. In either case, though,
I’d add they’re only worth supporting if they’ve proved sustained and
sustainable. I would proffer though that short-term volunteering is
perhaps less confusing to turtles than to children; an individual for
two weeks in a turtle project can achieve a lot, irrespective of the
relationships he or she forges.
But relationships are key to the success of, say, volunteering efforts
in schools or orphanages.
The transience of alien faces to little people must be disorientating.
Hill makes a pertinent point when he notes that ‘Voluntourists should
look for an organisation that consults with the local community,
and assures that the needs of the project have been sourced
by the community rather than imposed on it externally.’ Aid that
fails – and aid translates as assistance whichever way you split
it (‘voluntourism and aid work’) – is often the kind that has been
‘imposed’. Certainly that sort rarely sustains.
And he says the volunteer’s skills, or passions, ‘must be matched to
a project’. And there is choice, even within Kenya, to suit different
The Colobus Trust in Diani (click HERE), and the Masai Mara Big
Cat Wildlife Research and Conservation Project (click HERE) both
offer the opportunity to voluntour.
I asked Zarek Cockar, Operations Manager at Encounter Camps
which is involved with the Cat project, how popular their option is;
they expect to receive in excess of 110 volunteers this year who will
be engaged in wildlife population monitoring, invasive plant species
control, erosion control, lion monitoring in conjunction with the Mara
Naboisho Lion Project (www.mnlp.com), as well as community
efforts such as raising environmental awareness at a local primary
school and training students in computer and communication
skills at Koyiaki Guiding School. Wildlife conservation involves
observation, research assistance and helping the conservancy
manager in different tasks. ' But does it make a difference?' I
persisted. Certainly, he says, it promotes better, wider monitoring of
wildlife populations and helps give the conservancy management
and local conservationists a better perspective on successes and
failures. It also, of course, promotes a better understanding amongst
So was my 16-year-old daughter’s week of voluntouring worth it, I
asked her. ‘Will you remember your week with the turtles forever?’
Yes, I will. ‘Why?' Because I think I saw things that other people
only dream about seeing: baby turtles hatching and struggling to the
sea, a released turtle moving quickly back into the water, flippers
‘Do you think you made a difference?’ No, the same things would
have happened even if I hadn’t been there. But I helped to make a
difference. She considers for a moment, ‘Except when I dropped a
turtle by mistake; I don’t think that helped.’
And she learned so much, as if by osmosis; the information and
the awareness permeated more profoundly than anything in a
classroom might have done. Her story follows:
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