I want to get your reaction to an idea, but first I need to give you some background.
Voluntourism, travel designed to facilitate guests helping local people by volunteering their time is considered to be one of the biggest growth areas in travel.
A year ago April a post on voluntourism.org suggested that incentive travel is “potential growth area for 2009 and beyond,” for the, “voluntourism industry.”
Put voluntourism in Google Search and you get 129,000 hits.
I trust that most voluntourism is well intentioned, yet there is something about the majority of the projects that bothers me. Building schools and clinics, tagging and counting turtles, helping in a local pre-school and similar projects almost always involves people from rich countries paying to do badly tasks that local people in poor countries should get paid to do well.
In most cases the scarce resource that voluntourism provides is money, not labor. The guests’ labor is often the price that the local communities have to pay for the money.
While in most cases the communities are probably better of with this kind of voluntourism than they would be without it, it strikes me as slightly hypocritical and mutually denigrating.
I did not always recognize this. It was not until my wife, who growing up poor in rural El Salvador was a resentful recipient of missionary charity, emphatically pointed out to me how self-serving our voluntourism projects were that I began to search for an alternative.
I found two: Medical voluntourism and teaching languages, especially English. In both cases visitors have the rewarding experience of helping local people with something besides money, that local people cannot provide for themselves, truly need and want, and that the visitors are uniquely qualified to provide.
The problem has been how to apply these models to a significant number of our guests. Most of them are not doctors. Even for those that are it would be challenging to fit into a typical vacation, say a cataract operation
Then it hit me, all my guests speak English. Would it be feasible for our guests to teach local children? How would it work? Would guests want to do it?
Becoming proficient in English for a child in Costa Rica (and most other parts of the non-English speaking world) can provide more long term benefit to the child than having a cataract removed might have for an adult. Simply put, English at least doubles lifetime earning.
The challenge is that unlike doctors services where an hour of medical treatment can make a lasting difference, it takes years of continual exposure to become proficient in a language.
I know a few North Americans who have dedicated years of their lives teaching English to Costa Ricans, but they are not voluntourists. They are expats and they own language schools that cater mostly to a middle-class clientele.
What I need is a way for my guests to have the rewarding experience of using only a few hours of their vacation time teaching English to selected motivated children who otherwise would not have an opportunity to learn the language. I also need the children to have the prolonged exposure in the language that leads to fluency.
Lots of different teachers for the same kids.
So that’s the background. Here’s the question: If there were a very fast and easy to learn teaching method that after 20-30 minutes of reading would allow new teachers to jump in and pick up where former teachers have left off share knowledge of English with a child and indicate the child’s proficiency level to the next teacher, do you think you find rewarding spending at least two hours on your next vacation to the non-English speaking world sharing your knowledge with a local child? Do you think other people would?
The best blog I’ve found on voluntourism is Voluntourismgal. The blog is oriented to the “industry” rather than the traveler.