Voluntourism: Becoming A Citizen Of The World

Voluntourism: Becoming A Citizen Of The World

Voluntourism: Becoming A Citizen Of The World
September 7, 2019

Having been involved in the volunteer industry for a while, the good, bad and downright ugly issues and discussions surrounding it, fascinate me. It is a controversial topic with people often focusing on either the positives or negatives of volunteering and voluntourism.

Before I get into the topic, I am going to address the two terms that are often interlinked and used interchangeably. By definition;

Volunteering is the act of giving up your time to support others less fortunate; something that is done at, or at least close to, home.

Voluntourism is the combination of volunteering and tourism; people acting as global citizens as part of a global community, giving their time to support others less fortunate. It involves travelling somewhere new to volunteer your time.

I am going to use the term voluntouring as that is what Global Handprints provides; a combination of helping out in a new community while traveling somewhere away from home. Despite the positive sounding description and the fact that volunteer tourism is one of today’s fastest growing trends, there is still a lot of negativity surrounding voluntourism. There is little disapproval of people giving up their time to help out in a homeless shelter down the road. However, as soon as someone says they are jumping on a plane to spend time in a school in Africa, often all sorts of negative comments are thrown around;

Isn’t it better to send money, why do you have to pay to give up your time, why don’t you get involved in a local project, what skills do you have that trump those of local people and so on, are you really going to make a difference to someone’s life, what will you get from the experience, how will anyone else benefit, aren’t you just highlighting the differences between cultures?

Over this series of blog posts, we are going to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly; pros and cons of voluntourism, take a look at short term voluntouring and what that specifically means, what you should look for when choosing a volunteer organization and just why you should voluntour.

There are some very varied opinions out there on whether voluntourism is a positive or negative thing. I don’t think it’s as clear cut as ‘all voluntoruism is good or bad’

Children at a primary school in Uganda playing games in their first ever sports day organised by volunteers.

Children at a primary school in Uganda playing games in their first ever sports day organised by volunteers.

Firstly, lets talk about the good, the concept of voluntorusim; why there’s nothing wrong with it and why it doesn’t deserve ALL the negative press it gets.

As with everything, there is much to consider and, most importantly voluntourism is only beneficial when it is done right. And by right, I mean right for all parties. The communication between organisations, volunteers and community members must be multi directional and fluid, enabling all parties to not only benefit from the time spent with each other but also to openly communicate what it is that they need.

“The fight for justice has never been easy. But human history has always been shaped by the courageous actions taken by those with a vision of a better world…As Global Citizens, we stand against the greatest injustice of our time: extreme poverty. We’re fighting because we know that a world that deprives 1.2 billion people of their basic rights and opportunities is unjust, and unacceptable. We’re fighting because we know that we must be the ones to do something about it.”

Global Citizen

In today’s society we are working towards globalization; becoming Global Citizens interacting with people from different cultures and backgrounds on a daily basis. How can this happen if there is no common ground, no way for us to experience and share the lives of others or for us to share our own experiences and ideas on a global scale? If the benefits of volunteering can be combined with travel too, where’s the harm in that? Not only do you get all the plusses of volunteering but you get them while in new places, surrounded by new people and immersed in a new culture. At the same time, you’re being exposed to all these differences and in situations like that, it’s hard not to look at our values and beliefs, comparing and contrasting them to others.

Travel has long since broken down barriers between countries and cultures, enabling us to see and feel more. However voluntourism goes that step further allowing us to experience and become involved in other people’s lives. It takes us into the communities and cultures we travel to find out more about, stopping us from being onlookers but turning us into active participants. Whether this is for a short time, long time or permanently, it changes us. It changes how we see the world, what we share with the world and breaks down the barriers. I challenge you to find someone who has volunteered overseas and who didn’t return home having changed, at least a little…

With social media being such a large part of most people’s daily lives and making it so easy for us to read about or see pictures of what is happening elsewhere, we are becoming more and more socially conscious. We are aware of what happens elsewhere in the world, our moral compass realizes the injustice of the differences occurring between different countries and, now that the world is accessible, we want to get involved. We don’t want to sit back and just be witnesses to what’s happening around the world, we want to have opportunities to make a difference, coming home being able to say

“We collected data to enable food sharing programs to function well / helped a High School child perfect their essay writing skills / fixed and painted classroom benches so children don’t have to sit on the floor”.

Yes, that’s the selfish aspect, we want to feel better about ourselves but that’s human nature. Who doesn’t enjoy success and accomplishment? If that success comes in the form of helping others, why is that seen as wrong? It’s about the big and the small things and the big changes don’t happen without the little steps that lead to them. We have the power to make the little steps happen, whether that’s at home or overseas.

Global Handprints was established to provide opportunities to volunteer at a grass roots level within communities that receive little, or no, outside help. The focus is on what these people get from the projects and how they benefit from having volunteers getting involved with what they are doing. The communities have ownership over their projects that we work with, we do what they need us to do to make their project run more smoothly, operate well and have the biggest impact it can to meet the need(s) they have identified. Volunteers identify their areas of skill and expertise, bringing passion and enthusiasm with them ready to get stuck in and lend a hand where it is needed. We work hard to make sure that our voluntour opportunities do exactly what we say they will for the people involved – both the volunteers and members of the communities we work with.

Old, broken desks ready to be refurbished by volunteers and put back into primary schools in Sodwana Bay

Old, broken desks ready to be refurbished by volunteers and put back into primary schools in Sodwana Bay

So, with the idea of voluntourism being so positive, what are the all these benefits and why is there such a stigma attached? Follow this blog to receive upcoming posts and join us as we discuss the controversy.

Have you ever taken part in voluntourism? What are your thoughts, is it a good thing or detrimental? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments.

Global Handprints

About Us

Global Handprints gives people like you guys, the opportunity to leave your mark on the world through volunteering and travel. In turn, with your support, Global Handprints is able to invest towards our social purpose, enabling projects and communities around the world to evolve and develop.

Join The TtT adventure Now!

Do you have a teaching qualification or are you enrolled in a teacher training course at the moment?

Are you available for an Easter 2020 placement?

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    Who Doesn’t Love A Road Trip?

    Who Doesn’t Love A Road Trip?

    Who Doesn’t Love A Road Trip?
    August 30, 2019

    Driving through a hot and humid Durban, what started off as a meaningless conversation about what we wanted to do in our own lives led to a series of questions;

    “What if someone wanted to spend their vacation doing good, not just lying on a beach?” “And if they wanted to see more of a country than being limited to one place while volunteering?” “How about if they were able to spend their free time doing awesome activities?” “Or getting involved in the communities?”

    Global Handprints’ Volunteer Road Trips were born. I mean, who doesn’t love a road trip? And what better way to improve an old classic but to add volunteering in to the mix.

    So, we had the idea, the basics of what we wanted to put together and some kind of idea, between us, of what areas we could start exploring in this awesome country. Hmmmm, what comes next? We spent most of that night excitedly talking about itineraries, pouring over maps, making an all important excel spreadsheet with days and towns and activities. The spreadsheet that would come to be our most ‘fiddled with’ document, with us both making changes and edits nearly every time we opened it and something else came to mind.

    As this went on, something became clear, no matter how much time we spent devouring maps or how much we read about regions, cultures and activities, nothing beat getting down and dirty on the road and discovering things for ourselves.

    With bags packed, arrangements for the dogs to be fed made and the rental car (this was pre-Landy days) full of petrol, we hit the road.

    Ever since coming to South Africa, I have been intrigued by the Transkei (Wild Coast) region so for me it was an easy decision to head south and focus on that route first. Leaving sunny Saint Lucia behind us (not too hard to do on a day when the municipality water ran out), we stayed in Durban with an old school friend of the boy’s and spent the night talking about the pros and cons of Land Rovers and work out how we could try to persuade them to give us a Landy for the tours…something we are still working on 🙂

    From Durban, just as our Road Trippers would do, we headed South towards Port Shepstone and off the beaten track towards Coffee Bay. As soon as we left the tar roads I had a few doubts about whether the little rental would get us to destination B but, as they say here ‘every rental’s a 4 wheel drive’. Driving through the Transkei region as the sun sets, through the villages, passing traditional Xhosa, brightly coloured round rondavels that make up the communities, is something that will always stick in my mind. Seeing the real, rural South Africa in all her glory was that point that I knew these trips were an awesome idea.

    We made it to Coffee Bay the round about way with a few stumbles and wrong turns resulting in us giving an elderly local a lift and he luckily pointed us in the right direction. Coffee Bay proved to be everything and more that I expected. It’s small and relatively un touched (for now) with a beautiful bay being overlooked by green grass, yes grass not yellow sandy, rolling dunes. We checked in to one of the 3 hostels and spent the evening watching a local band and making plans.

    After having a wander on the beach to set ourselves up for the day, we headed to the nearest (read, only) ‘café’ ready to make lists and plans and get back to the excel spreadsheet. Little did we know that this pit stop, aptly named Friends, would be the answer to all our open ended questions for Coffee Bay. And that it would set the precedent for the rest of our (and our volunteer’s) adventures. Over two plungers of coffee we got to know the owner and manager who as it turns out are involved in several small community based projects, have a whole heap of ideas on how to expand them and a little book of contacts of more people who would be willing to get involved!

    Over the next 10 days we spent our time exploring the (many more than necessary) back roads and dirt tracks of the region, knowing we wanted our volunteers to stay away from highways where possible. Outside of driving, our days were filled with meeting community members, asking questions, looking for contacts and ideas, turning up at peoples doorsteps unannounced, visiting projects, drinking a lot of coffee (and wine) and trying out the different adventure activities whilst also on the hunt for cultural experiences. All of which were to be incorporated into the itineraries born from the spreadsheet! We journeyed from the Transkei Wildcoast north towards the Drakensburg, across the mountains and back down through the Midlands.

    The biggest shock to me was the amount of local people who are actively involved in community projects and who are passionate about the development of various local services and projects. It was inspiring to meet people who have gone out of their way to put something in place for others and I knew that this was where Global Handprints was meant to be. Since our inception in 2010, we’ve been all about the small, grass roots level projects. We believe in working with those who sometimes get overlooked by the larger organisations and in keeping the ownership of projects with those who start them and who benefit from them; the community.

    I got back home having seen parts of this country I had called home for 6 months, but had never seen and having met people who made me want to go straight back and get involved with their work. This is what we want the Volunteer Road Trips to do for our Road Trippers; inspire them to empower and evolve. And to help them fall in love with Africa; the people, cultures, traditions and landscapes.

    Fast forward to now, lots of exploration, new roads discovered ideas thrown out, inspiration received, many motivating people met, and two itineraries are finalised (the excel spreadsheets are locked). The first Landy has been purchased, partnerships are in place and the Volunteer Road trips are ready to go.

    We have two routes both starting and ending in Durban with new routes running from Cape Town coming soon! You can check them out here and let us know what you think.

    Global Handprints

    About Us

    Global Handprints gives people like you guys, the opportunity to leave your mark on the world through volunteering and travel. In turn, with your support, Global Handprints is able to invest towards our social purpose, enabling projects and communities around the world to evolve and develop.

    Join The TtT adventure Now!

    Do you have a teaching qualification or are you enrolled in a teacher training course at the moment?

    Are you available for an Easter 2020 placement?

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      14 Ways To Make Your Time in South Africa Amazing

      14 Ways To Make Your Time in South Africa Amazing

      14 Ways To Make Your Time in South Africa Amazing
      August 27, 2019

      Our current projects are based across South Africa, a large, beautiful and, in many places unspoiled country. It offers visitors world heritage sites, mountains, beaches, cities, adventure and wildlife in abundance while also sharing its unique traditions and customs. Visiting Africa can seem daunting to many people and it has been said that South Africa is a perfect destination for ‘first timers’ As much as the country is more similar to the western world than elsewhere in Africa, there are still huge cultural differences. It is these that make South Africa the magnificent place that it is.

      These simple, suggested, tips will help you get the most out of your time in South Africa, whether as a first timer or a returning visitor. They will also make sure you don’t annoy the locals.

      Do your research before you go.

      Read, Google, watch, any and everything you can to find out about the country and it’s political and cultural history before you go. South Africa has a controversial history with many changes only being made in the last few decades. Make sure you have an understanding of this and are prepared for differences between South Africa’s culture and your cultures because they will occur.

      Continue your research once you’re in South Africa.

      Most cities have a handful of museums that touch on not only apartheid but also specific regional history. In cities like Cape Town, where they compete with Table Mountain, penguins and wine tasting, these are often over looked on the lists of must sees.

      This monument indicates the site at which Mandela was captured.

      This monument indicates the site at which Mandela was captured.

      Understand how big the country is!

      South Africa’s landmass is 1,219,912 km2 with Cape Town and Johannesburg being 1,402 km from each other. Make sure you research how you’re going to get from one stop on your itinerary to the next, whether that’s by bus, domestic flights or car rental.

      Plan how you will get from A to B prior to your arrival in the country.

      Unless you are in one of the largest cities, public transport is either unreliable or not available. Locals will use shared taxis and if you are comfortable doing so they are a great and cheap way to get around for short distances. However, you need to be very certain where you’re going and prepared to pay more than locals! There are long distance buses and inner city trains however striking staff can be a potential issue.

      Explore the beautiful landscapes.

      Explore the beautiful landscapes.

      Learn the rules of the road if you rent a car.

      If planning to cover large distances, car rental can work out as an affordable option that also enables you to see more of the country along the way. However, it is advisable to learn South African rules of the road before setting off as signals and gestures that mean one thing at home may mean something different in South Africa.

      Get off the beaten path and get out of the cities.

      Yes, if you’re in Cape Town Table Mountain is a must see. However, you will get much more of a sense of traditional South African cultures away from the tourist hot spots and the cosmopolitan cities. There is much more to see in and out of cities than those just listed in tourist guide books / travel forums. The rural areas are where you will get to learn more about the many cultures that make up the rich tapestry of South Africa’s tribes and people. Away from the cities you will see the beautiful landscapes; vast, arid planes, beaches, sand dunes and rugged coastlines that make South Africa so special.

      Be on your guard and wary of safety issues.

      South Africa has a reputation for being very dangerous however, as long as you follow simple safety guidelines, just as you would do anywhere, you should be fine. These include:

      • Keep your belongings hidden when on you or locked away in your accommodation,
      • Keep car doors locked,
      • Take licensed taxis / Uber (available in some cities),
      • Only walk the streets in groups,
      • Always make sure someone knows where you’re going

      Talk to local people when you get the chance.

      This is the best way to find out more about them and their beautiful country. Rather than surrounding yourself by tourists, explore the local’s choice in hotspots and get chatting!

      Research any organisations or companies that you are using for trips and tours.

      This is especially true for anything that could be controversial. Make sure your visit to a cheetah reserve doesn’t end up with you supporting animals being bred in captivity. If you’re planning to take township tour or similar, make sure the organization is one that works positively with the community (or, even better that the tours are run by community members).

      Make sure any trips you take part in are ethically sound for the people and animals involved.

      Make sure any trips you take part in are ethically sound for the people and animals involved.

      Buy from and support local, small businesses as much as possible.

      In many cases you might just help feed a family by doing so or at the very least, will help their business grow and expand. Where possible it’s also a great idea to leave reviews for any services you receive as it helps the business and the people coming along after you.

      Understand the tipping etiquette.

      Make sure you tip car guards, gas/petrol attendants, bar staff and waitrons fairly rather than under, or even, over tipping. In most cases tips range from 10 – 20% depending on the level of service. When tipping car guards and gas/petrol attendants, a few coins making up anything from R5-R10, will be well recieved.

      Don’t gloat about the exchange rate!

      Yes, if you are spending GBP or USD (or pretty much any currency other than ZAR) you’re in luck and almost everything will be much cheaper than what you would pay at home. However, people who live in South Africa (whether South African born and bred or, like me, who choose to live there) will likely get paid in ZAR. Therefore, the R800 meal that seems like such a bargain to you could be a whole week of wages to someone else. If you spend your whole time telling people how cheap everything is, you will not only upset but also offend, locals.

      Understand that the South African nation does not consist only of people who don’t speak English, wearing traditional African dress.

      There nation is made up of a huge cultural mix of people and their heritage and 11 official languages. South Africa is home to people from all over the world going about their daily lives; they have jobs, go to school, buy groceries, go drinking, socialize with friends, play sports and go on Facebook.

      Dress appropriately.

      There are different norms and standards of what is and isn’t acceptable depending were you are in the country. In bustling towns, it is ok to dress, for the most part how you would do elsewhere. In Zulu villages, women shouldn’t show their thighs with short shorts. If in doubt, be respectful and cover up.

      It goes without saying that in addition to these suggestions, it is important to be respectful of the people you meet and culture you come across. South Africa can vary from being worlds apart from what you’re used to, to not that different (other than the weather!) It is a magical country where people are friendly and welcoming.

      Global Handprints

      About Us

      Global Handprints gives people like you guys, the opportunity to leave your mark on the world through volunteering and travel. In turn, with your support, Global Handprints is able to invest towards our social purpose, enabling projects and communities around the world to evolve and develop.

      Join The TtT adventure Now!

      Do you have a teaching qualification or are you enrolled in a teacher training course at the moment?

      Are you available for an Easter 2020 placement?

      Recent Comments

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        Trippin’ Tunes

        Trippin’ Tunes

        Trippin’ Tunes
        August 7, 2019

        There are so many ingredients that ‘make’ a road trip, the country you are in, the roads you’re traveling, the people you are with and the sites you see. Many of these will be set in stone when you set off, or will come and go as you make your journey. Some you will have full control of and others you won’t (every group road trip has that one person).

        Over long and bumpy roads, music is a vital ingredient to any road trip. Looking back, once we are home and settled in to the everyday, music has the power to transport us. To take us back to a time, an experience and an emotion, whether that’s in the middle of the South African outback or the Brazilian rain forest. I asked a few Travel Bloggers to share their musical memories of a road trip they have taken.

        Read on and prepare to be inspired to jump in your vehicle and hit the road.

        One of our best road trips was in Romania during fall time when trees and landscapes colours are so red, yellow and brown that you feel like you’re inside a Canadian postcard! We took an amazing road trip from Timisoara, the western Romanian city, to Bucharest, passing by Sibiu, Sighisoara, Brasov, Viscri and many more little cities and small villages. So just close your eyes and imagine a couple in a rented car in the middle of a colourful wood going from Dracula city to Bucharest and listening to Hotel California by The Eagles. Is there any better song or situation?

        Eride blogs at Queidue. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

        Our road trip was through Mexico and almost all the countries of Central America. We did the trip in a 25 year old toyota that we spent $3000 USD on and just prayed she’d hold up (she did! like a champ!) We wanted to travel the popular backpacking area on our own terms, by our own roads and see what different experiences we could have, not to mention to force a reset on a life that was going down a rough path. The trip was 5 months and we took almost a year to plan, 6 months of very serious planning.

        The song that reminds me the most of this trip is Bailando by Enrique Iglesias (the Spanish version). The song was released while we were on the trip and seemed to be the anthem for anyone traveling the area at the time. The beat is a classic Latin beat that permeates every single bar, shop, house throughout the warm days – the bass echoes through every street, whether it be this specific song or not – it all sounds the same. But this song was on everyone’s lips and every time you hear it you would put your cerveza down to dance with friends you met just minutes before. It brought everyone together. I still don’t know the song in English.

        Michelle writes about her travels at 2 Moose on the Loose. You can follow them on Facebook, and Instagram.

        My two best friends and I took a road trip throughout the American West. We traversed 4,500 miles in 10 days through 9 states, driving from Minnesota to California and back, and touched everything in between. We saw mountains for the first time, ate grilled mac & cheese sandwiches on the boardwalk on a San Diego evening, and were nearly killed in reservation country but stopped to stare at the stars anyway in that lightless night. Our trip was narrated by The Shouting Matches’ album “Grownass Man,” and the song I’ll Be True still makes me feel like I’m back behind the wheel of our car on the open road, my two best friends beside me, carefree and with the world ahead of me.

        Molly writes about being on the road at Molly on the Road. You can follow her on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.

        I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys reminds me of the time I was visiting my cousins who live in San Fran at the time and we decided to just take a couple days to visit LA. We didn’t take the Pacific Coast Highway but now that I know how pretty that route is, I definitely want to take that one next time! My cousins and I grew up with Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Brittany Spears so we always like to listen to their old albums. We know almost all of the lyrics and they just bring back memories of us growing up. It’s also fun to roll down the window during traffic and see if anyone will sing with us. 😁

        Jojo from Expedition Jojo is from Philadelphia, PA, USA. Her road trip took her through California from San Fransisco to LA and back. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

        When I hear Fourfiveseconds by Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul Mccartney, I immediately come back to summer of 2015 in Italy. I remember I was lying near the sea reading a book about India when I heard this song. I started listening to it, to the words, to the meaning. And I thought, why? Why is “all of my kindness taken for weakness”? Why do we feel so trapped in our worlds? But of course, it is also a love song so I thought also about love and how I would never do some of the things they described the woman was did. Especially because nobody would want me, haha. But then I met this guy and I turned into EXACTLY this woman. It happened within few days and I just could not understand how it was possible. The only explanation for me was that this song cursed me and there was nothing I could do. I still kind of feel cursed 🙂

        Nikoleta blogs at The Bonfire Dream. You can follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

        Are there any songs that take you right back to a road trip moment? Let us know in the comments!

        Global Handprints

        About Us

        Global Handprints gives people like you guys, the opportunity to leave your mark on the world through volunteering and travel. In turn, with your support, Global Handprints is able to invest towards our social purpose, enabling projects and communities around the world to evolve and develop.

        Join The TtT adventure Now!

        Do you have a teaching qualification or are you enrolled in a teacher training course at the moment?

        Are you available for an Easter 2020 placement?

        Recent Comments

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