A Note on Volunteer Tourism

In recent years volunteer tourism has been has increased due to the high number of travelers that are interested in taking part in this form of travel. Many of these travelers dedicate a particular amount of their vacation or travel time to volunteer with an organization. Although the work usually comes from genuine individuals who want to make a difference there is the possibility of the work having potential negative impacts. Here are some ways in which the work can have negative impacts and is something to think about while volunteering at Rogpa:

A neglect of the local’s desires

  • The motivations of volunteering is often selflessness but it is usually combined with the motivations for self advancement or other forms of personal reasons.
  • There is a possibility that if the tourists desires and motivations are being focused on it will become problematic because they are then being considered before the needs/desires of the local community.
  • While focusing on one’s own desires there is an increase of the potential for the lack of development for the local community
  • Volunteers that travel to a developing area assume the role that they are the "experts" in the local communities, which in fact they often know very little about.
  • Instead of imposing your own views and opinions on which work to do or how to perform, listen to the key members of the community as they likely understand the work and community more significantly.
  • At Rogpa, we have a strong belief of Tibetans working for Tibetans. We believe that Tibetans know what is best for them and which ways to do so. By doing this we hope that Tibetans become empowered and will not have to go to outside sources in order to receive a helping hand.

Unsatisfactory work due to the volunteers lack of skills in the given area

  • Unskilled volunteers may increase the potential for obstructing the work progress rather than helping.
  • Persons with little or no skills may weigh down the organization rather than being an asset because the workers may have to stop what they are doing in order to teach.
  • In another situation, a person may not be able to perform the tasks properly which ultimately hurts the organization.
  • At Rogpa, we try as much as we can to match the volunteers skills with the needs of the community. Our ongoing projects vary therefore we need various skills in different areas of work.

Reinforcement of the conceptualizations "us versus them", and a rationalization of poverty

  • By comparing the situations of the local community to one's own situations in their home country, we reinforce the dichotomy of "us versus them" instead of looking at the commonality between the developing and developed world.
  • Often we give definitions of host communities by their needs (people who live in poverty, disease, hunger etc).
  • Volunteers in a given area may compare the levels of poverty and hardship to what they know from their home country. For example: by stating that a person is "poor but happy" may enforce the rationalization of poverty.
  • At Rogpa, we are equal. We do not look down on others. We give support to the ones who need a helping hand rather than giving sympathy. For these reasons we prescribe to a strict policy of no photography and visitors as it may make the workers and families feel uncomfortable.

A decrease in job opportunities for the local community because of the promotions of dependency

  • Many jobs done by short term volunteers, could be done by locals but it sometimes is the case that they will do it for free, therefore it takes away the jobs from the local entrepreneurs
  • The local economy may be disrupted in a larger way by promoting dependency from the outside and from the "experts" in the community for a short period
  • At Rogpa, we try to develop our programs based on the idea that it would be of genuine value for the community. While creating these programs we are constantly thinking of ways in which it can employ the local community. By teaching them specific skills they are able to become more independent and self determined

Volunteering has many benefits but without looking at the potential negative impacts it is easy to embrace the work without realizing the possibility of consequences. We are very thankful for the help we receive from our volunteers. We hope that you learn a lot, give a helping hand when needed, and ultimately have fun!

Guttentag, D. A. (2009). The Possible Negative Impacts of Volunteer Tourism. International Journal of Tourism Research, 11(6), 537-551.

Simpson, K. (2004). 'Doing Development': The Gap Year, Volunteer-tourists and a Popular Practice of Development. Journal of International Development, 16(5), 681-692.