Volunteering and voluntourism

Lately, there has been paid more attention to the advantages and disadvantages of the combination of volunteering and tourism. Where there is room for a business, businesses will rise up. This, however, often leads to some inconvenient consequences. A stocktaking of the organizations offering volunteer work indicates that we can divide them into three categories: the ‘real estate agents’, the ‘multinationals’, and the businesses that offer volunteer work.

The ‘real estate agents’
Comparable to Tripadvisor, for instance. These organizations own a smart and user-friendly website that allows you to search for a project that suits you, according to the boxes checked by you in a form: which country would you like to go to, and what kind of project would you want to be involved in? Afterwards, some results are showed. Links will sometimes lead you to websites of organizations that offer the actual project, but the ‘real estate agents’ have also often taken over the process of organizing your stay.
‘Real estate agents’ have flashy websites and frequently pay a lot of attention to the fun trips that Tanzania offers as well. The promotion of Tanzania can be found there: it is a country with a huge amount of poverty, yet it also has great touristic attractions. It is no surprise that most of the ‘voluntourism’ projects can be found in the north of Tanzania (around Arusha and Moshi), where touristic highlights and a number of organizations offering safaris and mountain treks are located.

The ‘multinationals’
These organisations have developed their marketing extensively. They conquered the internet’s search machines, and whatever you do online, you will always end up at their websites. They are big organizations which make a living out of seducing the young volunteer and to make him/her choose an alternative to a trip around the world. These organizations take care of the whole trip. Often, they also arrange the flight (obviously these costs fluctuate, as everyone needs to make a different journey). Bigger corporations might even have their own traveling agency or ally with one. These agencies also offer traveling and safaris. 
One thing is very clear: you pay for absolutely everything, only to find out how much you paid more upon arrival at your destination.

The businesses offering volunteer work
If it is possible to arrange your stay with the project itself, you can avoid a lot of these costs. You know where your money is going to: to your stay and to your food. And that is exactly where it needs to go! Nevertheless, these organizations are not as well represented online. And that is what GoTanzania wishes to change!

Voluntourism 'unmasked'
The real estate agents and the multinationals claim to work 'non-profit' or 'not-for-profit', and also imply that part of the costs of volunteer work are reserved for the costs of the project. They are, of course, right. Yet we have no idea about the real costs and benefits this actually has for the organization. When investigating all organizations that offer volunteer work, it quickly becomes apparent that the costs differ to a great extent. Also, getting into contact with the project itself rather than with an organization proves to be a lot cheaper!

The big organizations are right about something: they all emphasize that the primary goal is to help Tanzania develop, but that they simultaneously want to offer potential volunteers an experience of a lifetime. Upon going to Tanzania, you will also explore the wild parks and maybe even the Kilimanjaro. Even if it is slightly opportunistic, there is nothing wrong about combining the useful with the pleasant. In practice, however, the ‘useful’ is often not serving a particular goal, or is not serving it right. It gradually becomes apparent that there are many things wrong concerning volunteer work.

In March 2014 Brandpunt (Dutch tv) aired a reportage focusing on orphanages that housed kids who were not an orphan at all. Also, in October and November several television programs professed criticism about volunteering in an orphanage in Asia, Africa and South-America. At GoTanzania, you can read more about this in the Newsblog. Some years ago, Renske de Greef wrote a Dutch novel on volunteer work in Moshi (“En je ziet nog eens wat,” Renske de Greef, 2009), in which the abuses of volunteering are highlighted.

Determine your position and prepare!
Before you can enter the “market” safely, it is wise to undertake a few steps. The first ones you take before going to the market: you ask yourself what you are exactly looking for. Everything works the same as in other situations like this: if you do not know what you want, you are a potential victim of the parties who are prepared and eager to tell you what you need.

GoTanzania discloses information that is helpful when determining your position and when preparing for your stay.