21 March 2009 ~ 0 Comments

Thoughts on voluntourism and “fair trade”

I added some thoughts to the comments on this article:


There is a film by Daniela Kon called “Changing the World on Vacation” which explores these issues. The website is http://www.deedaproductions.com where you can view the 16 minute selects reel.

The film highlights the organization I run, called PEPY, and many of the mistakes and lessons we learned during our first year of running volunteer trips in Cambodia. Watching the film now, I see so many things that we have changed in how we operate trips to make them more learning experiences and more targeted towards supporting the communities and programs they are meant to be aiding rather than just catering to the volunteers themselves.

There is so much to consider with voluntourism – decades of development best practices, responsible tourism, educational facilitation, etc. Getting it right takes not only some trial and error, but also a commitment to monitoring and evaluating the impact of your trips knowing that you will indeed find that you have done things wrong…. which is a hard thing to accept when it comes to helping people and doing good. You want to get it right. So when you know that you wont and you know that in some cases you are harming the programs you are aiming to help, it is often times frustrating enough for people to either close their eyes to it and not accept it or walk away frustrated that doing it right takes a lot more effort than they thought.

I think both voluntourism and development work in general can be forces for good when so often they are not, but it takes time, self-criticism, and a discerning donor/client base. I think PEPY still has a long way to go in this regard, but I hope we are working towards doing it right. We are also looking to partner with other voluntourism operators to solidify our Voluntourism Effective Practices (VEP) self-checking tool to keep us aware of the positive and negative impact factors in our programs.

If there are voluntourism operators out there looking to be involved, we would love to work with you :-) info@pepyride.org

PS – Brian, I very much agree with your “Fair Trade” point. Yours is also how I define fair trade – looking more at the issues of dumping etc which cause economic imbalances and inequities which make it impossible for those whose governments are not subsidizing agriculture to compete. We need a new word for this area of discussion around fair trade as all too often, once those words are thrown out, people think of fair trade products and coffee. Those who oppose that arena of “fair trade” believe in the same economic principals which I do – that you shouldn’t be subsidizing something with the hopes of it becoming “sustainable” – as it won’t be. If those same people were made to understand that the same logic applies in reverse to what we are doing with agriculture being shipped abroad, they might still be staunchly opposed to “fair trade” products which are made competitive via subsidizes and be able to get behind fighting for fair TRADING practices among nations.