02 October 2010 ~ 1 Comment

Voluntourism: Is it ok that it changes YOUR life?

I just read through and commented on this blog by Jane Reitsma about the local vs global volunteering debate.  She wrote it in response to my post about ideas for how to add value in your volunteer placement.

You can see in my comments on Jane’s piece that I recently had an experience where I got a new perspective of the potential of voluntourism.  I have usually seen wealthy people come through on voluntourism experiences, both the ones I have organized and the ones I myself had joined which started me on this journey.  Usually, it was a bunch of us who came from “privileged” backgrounds learning about just how privileged we were.

That is indeed a powerful experience, but listen to this:


Lesly’s story was the first personal account I had heard of someone who had had a life of gangs and anger whose life was dramatically changed through a voluntourism experience. I asked my friend, the founder of Global Potential, the organization Lesly had traveled with, if I could meet Lesly. Last week, when I was traveling through NY, I visited his school and joined the global potential group there for a presentation/discussion. I was SO impressed with these students. They had such self-confidence and, for many, a new found awareness about their ability to do good in the world.  I wrote more of my thoughts on this in the comments on Jane’s article (above).

It relates to the experience these “deportees” (or “returnees”) have had in Cambodia:


Please watch this and listen to the part, around 5 minutes and 20 seconds in where one of the teachers (an ex-gang member in the US) says: “If there was a program like that for me, I would not have turned out this way….. If you are exposed to it, to know you can do good, then you don’t end up… using drugs, be in a gang, etc.  This gives them the chance to grow up to be the person they might be able to be.”

Areas of our modern societies seem to have taken away a necessary part of what makes us do good: we need to be needed.  We need to know HOW we can do good in the world.  Once we are exposed to that – these two stories above – are proof that it is addictive, life changing, inspiring…. if we know how to do good, if we know how it FEELs to do good, if we know that we have the skills/talent/desire/energy to do good in the world we become compelled to continue to do so.

What do you think?  Why do YOU try to do good in the world?  If it is because it helps YOU, because it changes YOUR life, that is ok!  Actually – that’s great!  Because the more we change and improve ourselves, the more we learn HOW to do good, the more we continue to pursue a life of positive impact for others, and the more our potential for doing good increases.