Fostering exchange, while contributing to the sustainable development of the communities you visit, are the very objectives of the concept of volunteering holidays;
Volunteering travel shares a lot of common points with sustainable tourism. The main one being to favor cultural exchanges with the populations of the host territories.
In this article, we’ll dig into the principles of voluntourism and important points to know before you choose this alternative way of traveling.
What is voluntourism?
Volunteering holidays are an alternative way of traveling, which favor respect for the culture and environment of the host destinations while participating in projects aimed at improving the living conditions of its inhabitants.
Just over ten years ago, travelers became more aware of host communities and seeked for more intercultural exchanges.
Specialized agencies and associations have focused in this field, to bring together organizers who are particularly interested in engaging in an international solidarity approach.
More and more travelers are gaining interest in this form of travel (also known as voluntourism or solidarity travel) where they can become actors among the communities and give back while there are on holiday.
How does volunteering work?
In Solidarity Travel, agencies, travelers and communities form a triangular partnership, which is involved in various social and environmental projects.
These trips involve only a few people, and the destinations chosen are generally outside the main touristic infrastructures.
A part of the benefits received by tourism professionals is devoted to :
- the purchase of school supplies
- the installation of electricity or solar panels
- access to safe drinking water
- alternatively, subsidies for language courses
Some missions can specifically focus on the conservation of the environment or biodiversity. That’s what some call, eco-volunteering.
For example, in Botswana missions are organized to maintain a 5000-hectare private nature reserve.
The work of the participants involves the maintenance of natural and artificial water points, the eradication of human-made weeds, the digging of canals, the removal of old barbed wire fences that are a threat to wildlife…
In Galapagos, a partnership with the authorities of the Islands National Park has led to eco-volunteering projects that focus on the preservation of the land and marine fauna of this archipelago.
Whatever the mission, after their work, travelers are encouraged to use the services of guides native to visit the region, and to encourage local businesses and restaurants for the overall benefit of the local economy.
It also ensures that the amounts spent will directly benefit local communities and concretely improve their quality of life.
This alternative travel is just as enriching for the traveler as it is for the community that welcomes him.
Travelers can discover a country or region, dive into the heart of the values and culture of its people while developing healthy and equitable relationships with them based on trust.
The proximity with tour operators in the field will allow travelers to follow the progress of the projects in which they collaborated, once they are back home.
Main destinations for volunteering
Several countries attract those interested in traveling with an impact and helping on the ground.
Morocco, Mali, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Madagascar mainly welcome French-speaking travelers.
The other most popular regions for volunteering holidays are:
- In Central and South America:
- In South East Asia
Before you go : traps to avoid
Before you commit yourself to volunteer, make sure you contact recognized organizations that offer this type of trip.
These are some of the questions you should ask yourself:
- Are other humanitarian organizations highly involved in this region?
- Do the projects require increased demand for resources or commodities not available locally?
- Are these actions likely to generate a surplus of waste or greenhouse gas emissions that are difficult to treat?
- As for the initiatives undertaken, will they benefit local communities in the long term?
It remains essential that the work of supportive travelers does not risk taking away employment opportunities from residents and that it contributes to the creation of new resources.
Make sure you carefully study the available projects and understand what your role in these missions means.
Solidarity travelers interested in animal welfare are sometimes attracted to support in wildlife sanctuaries.
Here again, it is essential to check whether this is not a sanctuary that exploits animals.
If you wish to participate in missions to help children in orphanages, you should be aware that kids are often tempted to transfer their need for affection to solidarity travelers, who carry out a temporary mission.
Farewells, for you and them alike, can be tough.
Solidarity and humanitarian organizations also recommend giving priority to projects that aim to help children stay with their families or relocate them to a welcoming environment that is conducive to their development.
Have you ever traveled as a volunteer? Share your experience with other travelers in the comments.