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Thursday, September 5, 2013

‘Voluntourism’ as a Powerful Learning Tool

‘Voluntourism’ has gained popularity over recent years and has inspired many debates. Some question the effectiveness of sending volunteers overseas to do work people overseas are more than capable of doing.

Sending a team of young volunteers who’ve raised their own funds to go and help – and we do this every year – is a good idea; but only if we and they understand that their primary role is to learn.

For example, HOPE’s UNION program (Understanding Needs In Other Nations) provides opportunities for volunteers to go to countries like the Dominican Republic. Yes, they’re there to get their hands dirty, but more importantly, they’re there to receive the gift of awareness that only the families there can give. The “learning” is for the volunteers, not so much the families they are working alongside. The families have access to the knowledge and skills needed to build a water system; they simply lack the financial resources to make it happen.

We are the guests on their journey out of poverty – they are in the driver’s seat.

Without exception, volunteers who return from their trip speak of what they’ve learned more than what they’ve done. After the blisters fade away, it’s the learning that remains. This is why we encourage young volunteers to go overseas.

To truly understand the situation in the developing world, one must be a firsthand witness to the suffering and poverty that threatens the lives of so many. When you stand in front of the mother who tells you that her family won’t eat that night because there is simply no food, you cannot go on living your life the way you did prior to such an experience. It becomes impossible to sit back and do nothing about what you've seen and experienced.

Upon returning, the team members now understand more about the root causes of the issues and how to begin solving them. They become advocates for the lives of the people they’ve encountered by raising awareness about the situation they’ve now become a part of, and they help create change in a powerful way.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can get involved, please contact Rainbow Choi or visit our UNION page for more information.