If you are like so many conscious travellers, you naturally want to contribute in some way to the betterment of the places you visit during your travels. Particularly if you observe the local area is struggling with poverty, child illiteracy, pollution, habitat destruction, etc. As in the case of ecotourism, the tourism industry (in fact, multitude of industries what we call tourism) is quick to respond to this new trend with voluntourism or volunteer travel.
At first glance, these new opportunities are great for travellers who otherwise may be unaware of the deep-rooted local problems that are often hidden to the passer-bys. These packaged voluntours take care of arrangements with local authorities, accommodations, transportation and meals, leaving some room for exploring the area and immersing in the local culture during free time. Usually, they even plan weekend trips for their volunteers. Among the few trusted and long established volunteer projects is the Tambopata Macaw Project housed at the Tambopata Research Centre located in Tambopata Reserve in the South Eastern part of the Peruvian Amazon. With only $10.00 a day to cover your accommodation and food, you will be able to assist daily with the Center's Macaw Project, and immerse yourself completely in the wilderness of the rainforest and the local culture by interacting with staff from the indigenous Ese'Eja community.
At first glance, everyone benefits from such philanthropic efforts - from the guilt-ridden consciousness of the travellers from developed countries to the struggling local economies and habitats. Sounds like a symbiotic relationship, right? Well, nature shows that where there is symbiosis, there is also an equal opportunity for a parasitic relationship. The same is true with the voluntourism sector which is gaining in popularity, and quick profit is often too tempting of a motive for struggling regions and few corrupted businesses. If the price for volunteering sounds quite steep and unreasonable, it probably is. Make sure to ask questions, check the company on Trip Advisor, and find out where your money is really going. If the company is transparent about their funds, that's a good sign!
Phot by by Jhuskin Flickr