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Responsible Voluntourism Campaign to “End Humanitarian Douchery”

28 April 2015 at 11:09 am
Xavier Smerdon
An international campaign using humour to raise awareness of the “dark side” of voluntourism is gaining traction.

Xavier Smerdon | 28 April 2015 at 11:09 am


Responsible Voluntourism Campaign to “End Humanitarian Douchery”
28 April 2015 at 11:09 am

An international campaign using humour to raise awareness of the “dark side” of voluntourism is gaining traction.

The “End Humanitarian Douchery” campaign was launched earlier this month by two Gen Y Canadian university students – Christina Guan, 21, and Kaelan MacNeill, 23 – and has since garnered global media attention.

The pair have created a video and mobilised the Twitter hashtag #EndHumanitarianDouchery to call for an overhaul of voluntourism – where people combine travel to a destination abroad with volunteering on projects that assist a local community.

Popular types of voluntourism include trips taken as part of a gap year or career building strategy where unqualified volunteers from first-world nations such as Australia pay to volunteer overseas.

According to the campaign, the global voluntourism industry, worth over $2 billion, is fraught with issues, such as:

  • Not all booking agencies or volunteer organisations are legitimate.

  • Work might aim to benefit volunteers more than local communities.

  • Volunteers are often not properly trained or qualified.

  • Volunteer work can disrupt local economies and foster dependency.

  • Engaging in voluntourism can perpetuate stereotypes, images of difference and unequal power relationships.

  • Voluntourism turns aid and social change into a commodity.

The pair have also published a list of the “Seven Sins of Humanitarian Douchery” to draw attention to bad volunteer behaviour, including, among others:

  • Research Slothery

“When sloth-like laziness leads to a lack of research on volunteer organisations and host communities.”

  • Volunteering as Gluttonous Consumption

“When volunteers treat their trip like any other act of consumption and trample into host communities with a mindset of vacationing and tourism, pursuing photo opps and messy nights out instead of a true learning experience.”

  • Lusting for Likes

“When volunteers flaunt their experiences on social media and portray themselves as ‘heroes’ who are ‘saving’ the third world, often through photos and stories of their trip.”

“All around us, we see our peers flocking to developing countries to ‘help the needy’ and change the world. Now, volunteering abroad can be awesome, but it also has a very dark side that most volunteers don’t think about,” the Guan and MacNeill wrote on their campaign site.

“We want to raise awareness and educate people about how to volunteer responsibly, so they can create a beneficial experience for both themselves and their host communities.  

“While critiques of voluntourism have been around for a while, most naysayers take an overly harsh and cynical approach to the topic. We understand that voluntourists aren’t monsters, and they’re not intentionally wreaking havoc.

“That’s why we’re taking a different approach to this issue. We’re not trying to shame volunteers into hating themselves…we want to empower them to pursue their passion in a responsible way.”

Through the campaign, Guan and MacNeill say they hope to draw attention to their proposed alternative,- Fair Trade Learning – described as “a global educational partnership exchange that prioritises reciprocity in relationships though cooperative, cross-cultural participation in learning, service, and civil efforts.”

“[Fair Trade Learning] is meant to be a community-driven response to the market pressures of international volunteering. This is about creating reciprocal relationships that are community driven and that offer long-term sustainable betterment for all involved.

“This shift also entails shifting the focus of volunteer initiatives to one of lasting and sustainable change, eliminating shortsighted one-sided relationships between volunteers and host communities.”

The pair said their Fair Trade Learning model was based on a collaborative effort, including a series of publications, between academic institutions Providence College and Middlesex University Dubai and the organisation Amizade Global Service Learning.

In Australia, travel companies market voluntourism packages to consumers, offering experiences such as teaching English at Buddhist monasteries in Nepal or building houses for communities in Kenya.

In 2012, travel agency Flight Centre’s executive general marketing manager in Australia, Colin Bowman, said the rise of voluntourism could be attributed to social media increasingly playing a part in influencing people’s travel decisions.

“Nowadays, people are sharing their holiday photos on social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and chatting about their experience on blogs, even while they are overseas,” he said.

“It is fair to say that Aussies are motivated by the travel experiences of their peers and, more often than not, are encouraged to visit a particular destination or pursue an activity based on feedback from people they know.

“Integrating a volunteer experience, with a beach or shopping holiday in one trip can make it meaningful, cost-effective and twice as enjoyable.”

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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