02 November 2010

The best of touristic intentions ...

They're the classic antidotes to tourism as usual: packaged tours that combine travel with doing good. Ecotourism gives insight into fragile ecosystems and cultures in transition by providing many of the trappings of standard tourism in a more sustainable package. Dark tourism (a.k.a. grief tourism) provides ostensibly worldview-expanding looks into favelas and former concentration camps and the, well, darker side of life. And voluntourism ... well, the punning name should be self-evident.

All certainly laudable in concept. The intentions are good, and often the results are, too. Buuuut ... just as there's nothing inherently wrong with doing the standard-issue Grand Tour, there's also nothing inherently better about trying to save the world in your two weeks of vacation. Sometimes, alas, you can do more harm than good. NPR's "All Things Considered" tackled the topic of voluntourism today and had some interesting observations:
But in South Africa, some researchers now claim that foreign visitors aren't actually helping the children they work with. In fact, they might be harming them.

The South African government has expressed concern about so-called AIDS orphan tourism, and the Department of Social Development recently said that it will study the issue.

... The psychological literature talks about attachment theory — very young children are programmed to build attachments," she says. "And so, you've got these sort of repeated abandonments — first with young children whose parents may die of AIDS. And then they go to live in an orphanage where you often have high staff turnover."

The process continues when well-meaning tourists come to volunteer their time, she says.

"And then you've got tourists that are coming as sort of the third wave of this abandonment. Children are left behind to remember a series of these foreigners who come in and then leave them there," Norman says.

1 comment:

  1. I find that South African argument a bit weak. It sounds to me like "AIDS has ruined these children's lives, then we've ruined it by mismanaging their orphanage, and now you're going to come here and volunteer? It's your fault these kids are messed up!"

    I doubt the volunteers help very much. I think the general argument against volunteer tourism has some good points. This specific example, though, sounds more like people passing blame than really analyzing what's going on. And since the South African government surely wants to limit international attention on the AIDS problem there (or any of the many problems there), they have an ulterior motive to be negative towards this particular program.


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