03 July 2009 ~ 0 Comments

More Development Tourism Thoughts

I added more thoughts to this week’s development tourism discussion here.

I very much agree with your final paragraph: “voluntourists… should not be led to believe that they’re directly contributing anything other than cash to a development project on the ground.” The fact that many voluntourism and even longer term “volunteer” projects, marketed as ways for people to aid the aid industry DON’T include financial contributions when they often suck resources from the groups they are meant to serve drives me nuts. We make it clear to those who travel with us at PEPY that the impact they are having will come after they leave: 1) with the funds they are donating to the projects as part of the trip fee and hopefully donations in future years as well as 2) the impact they will have on the world when they change how they travel, give, and teach others about their experiences in the future. Changes do not come because people worked with a community to paint a mural about not drinking unclean water from a pump. Changes come from community members working together to do research about clean water and educating each other about the ways they can stay healthy, and the foreigners who painted the mural with them can fund that.
We didn’t always make that clear on our tours. In fact, in our first year(s?) of tours we patted ourselves and each other on the backs for our part in “changing peoples lives”. Now, if I hear people say that at the end of one of our tours I cringe and realize we haven’t made the most of our nightly readings/discussions on that trip (unless of course they are referring to changes in their OWN lives, which is usually the case and the best goal we can hope for). We used to have people complain that they didn’t get to build, dig, make, help, give, or serve enough. Now we make it clear from day one that their value add is in the funds they provide and the lessons THEY learn, and their post-tour feedback usually says they “wish they could have gotten involved in the projects more but recognize that we wouldn’t have added much value.” and that they will “continue to travel and give differently in the future because of what we have learned.” Success is no longer tracked by how much we “accomplished” on our tours, but how much people learned during their time with us and the support generated for the ongoing projects designed, not to be run by visiting tourists, but by local community members with long-term investments in the results of their work.

Thanks for adding the discussion!

PS – I enjoyed picturing the idea of “gaggles of western women in tight shorts” here at PEPY. Makes me more aware that we need to change the image that we project – which I know we need to change in an updated website, avoiding skewed press written about us etc. We had only one bike tour last year, we ask people to cover up when not riding, and I’m not sure how many a gaggle is, but I think we’d be lucky if we got near that many people to come join us 😉 But I appreciate the thoughts and do very much agree that what works in one place will not work exactly the same in another, even in the same country. Thanks for sharing this – I enjoyed reading!