27 March 2011

Why Oh Why Can't We Have A Better Press Corps? NYT Mag and Voluntourism

This is the introduction to a voluntourism article for New York Times Magazine which then lists organizations who do it.
What began as a generational drive to “give back” spawned an addition to the travel lexicon: voluntourism. By the mid-2000s, many hotel chains were offering affluent boomers an opportunity to drop in and do good for a day — but with little real effect on those in need, and almost no sustainability. Then came the Indian Ocean tsunami, and Katrina, and Haiti, and an emerging segment of tourism gained momentum. Now a handful of companies offer trips that could be called “extreme voluntourism” or “urgent response travel,” many of them requiring a two-week commitment and tangible skills. One such outfit, Gap Adventures, said it had seen a 100 percent increase in bookings. But the idea of “volunteer vacations” has been met with controversy: many not-for-profits say that the logistics of putting people on the ground disrupt the flow of care, and that fly-by-night foreigners are stealing long-term jobs from locals. These eight organizations are challenging that perception. They work with grass-roots groups in their host countries, placing travelers in orphanages, land reserves and developing communities from the Gulf of Mexico to Haiti and China.
Evidently the reservations about the problems associated with such trips warrant a passing mention, but do not deter the listing of ways to get involved that even includes a top trip!

Gap Adventures
Gap runs 19 trips that could be described as “Peace Corps light.” The one- or two-week tours focus on helping local communities develop sustainable economies. Whenever possible, tour leaders hire local guides and have travelers spend the night in local homes so that the money remains in the community.
Top Trips Project Brazil places volunteers in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro for 15 days to assist at a day care center with children 6 years and younger. Community Development in Peru sends volunteers to build efficient traditional cooking stoves and work in a women’s weaving co-op near Cuzco.
The issue is not so much with it being pro-voluntourism. I have my disagreements with the practice, but recognize that nothing is all bad. However, this casually dismisses any concerns and links people with ways to take part. To me, that should not be the role of a news organization.

What I am assuming is that the article is likened to any other travel feature. It is helpful to get ideas and find out how to put together various trips. Coming from this perspective, it is easy to see why making a list would be helpful to those who want to partake. This logic works up into the small issue of the fact that a vacation to take in some rays in Mombasa and safari in Masai Mara is radically different than going on a volunteering vacation where you build houses in Nyanza Province.

This discussion deserves more than an opening paragraph.

Credit: Title is blatantly stolen from Brad DeLong.

HT Paul Clammer and Andy Richardson