Cambodia Travel Guide

Nov 23, 2008

Do good, Feel good, but... IS it Good?


It's a trend most visible in a country like Cambodia: doing voluntary work while on vacation. Tourists spend a few days of their vacation helping at orphanages by learning kids English, playing with them or building or repairing a school. A survey by Tourism and Marketing Research found that the number of 'voluntourists' has grown to to a total of 1.6 million a year!

While intentions may be sincere, there are ethical concerns about the benefits of volunteer travel, with some groups suggesting that it can do more harm than good. This especially concerns the way in which the volunteer work can be misdirected and organised more for the benefit of the untrained traveller than the recipients of their efforts.

I agree with that. Tourists spending 3,4 or 5 days 'working' in say an orphanage are not really contributing to the cause. They are doing that for themselves, to feel good, to be able to show pictures at home: "Look what good I've done during my holiday!" I'm only referring here to people directly working with the orphanage kids. If you are there to, say, paint a class room or donate much needed supplies, that's a whole different story. Although, even that could be counterproductive. E.g., couldn't a local paint that class room and thus earn some income?

Take e.g. the American Peace Corps. The majority of volunteers at this organization are just graduated college students. They are coming to Cambodia to 'teach' English in rural villages. Pardon me? Teaching English while you've just graduated? I always thought teaching is a job, a skill that takes some years of studying.

Another example, from Ethiopia: If the Peace Corps wishes to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it needs to send expertise, not just youthful zeal. That was what Ethiopian officials politely told Peace Corps country director Peter Parr when he approached them last summer with a proposal to send a batch of volunteers to work on the pandemic. However, about half of the volunteers are straight out of college and still need to be told not to arrive at the office in flip-flops.

Oh, I'm sure these volunteers have experiences they will never forget and maybe it'll change their world view. Which is good..., but what does it contribute to the projects involved?

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