Saturday, February 24, 2018

Open Space: In defence of voluntourism

October 1, 2014 by Andrea Valentine-Lewis, contributing writer

Voluntourism, a combination of volunteering and tourism that has taken some flack within the media, is actually a positive way for students travel to third-world countries while immersing themselves in a different culture. I would know, because I’ve done it.

In third-world countries there are many organizations established to host volunteers in an assortment of different projects. They focus their work in different areas, including orphanages, health care, teaching English, environmental sustainability, and the project that I worked on this summer in Guatemala: animal care.

A scene from the writer’s voluntourism adventures (photo provided).

My volunteer hours were based in an animal shelter in the foothills of a mountain in rural Guatemala. At this anti-euthanizing shelter, which rescues sick animals from the street, there were 315 dogs and more than 100 cats.

I had a dirty job in my project. I was assigned to clean the cages of the sick animals in the shelter, walk dogs that had never been trained, and assist in the spaying/neutering of cats. I could’ve stayed for 12 hours a day and there still would have been work to do.

Before I signed up for my project, I was warned continually about the controversies of voluntourism. Many projects charge volunteers heaps of money to come into their community and lightly assist with building houses and teaching classrooms without the proper experience.

The famous argument against voluntourism is that the volunteers only want the perfect Facebook profile picture to prove they are good people: for example, the white girl surrounded by African orphans. Do I have a picture with six-week-old puppies? I do. But is that wrong? No.

My project at the animal shelter wasn’t expensive. It didn’t require any skills that I didn’t already have. I felt physically exhausted after every day of work, and I certainly didn’t have fun while cleaning out the floors of the animals’ cages.

Did I make a difference? Yes, I did. I relieved some of the tasks from the dedicated, passionate workers at the clinic. I provided genuine affection for animals that were itching for love.

On my time off from working at the shelter, I shopped, travelled, and ate out. I refrained from bartering in excess and provided genuine Guatemalan vendors with money, which only helps their economy.

But because of the backlash against voluntourism I feel like I have to apologize for having a great time. Whatever. I had a wonderful time.

And, for what it’s worth, I’m currently fundraising for the shelter to continue to help from afar.

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2 Responses to “Open Space: In defence of voluntourism”
  1. Vcs Venceram says:

    “I relieved some of the tasks from the dedicated, passionate workers at the clinic. I provided genuine affection for animals that were itching for love.”

    Have you asked yourself why the clinic is not hiring more locals to do this kind of job?

    I’ll give you a hint: They wouldn’t have anymore business from people like yourself.

    Good job mate! You’re taking the job from a local!

    • Andrea Valentine-Lewis says:

      Hey there Vcs Venceram. I appreciate the comment and know exactly where you’re coming from.

      However, the clinic hires locals. They have about 4 permanent staff. The problem is, the lady running the clinic doesn’t have enough money to support the clinic and hire more workers (and I know that locals wouldn’t work for free). Therefore, she is affiliated with a volunteer agency in order to get the help for free!

      But thanks for your concern!