Volunteer can be saved by volunteer tourism

Young man sits on doorstep with three African children.
Volunteer tourism, involving teaching in Africa for example, can reignite the age of the volunteer.

Once a flourishing linchpin of any community, the volunteer is easily classified today in the category titled ‘Rare Breed’.

A Griffith University researcher says the tide can be turned through volunteer tourism.

Dr Alexandra Coghlan, a senior lecturer at Griffith’s Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management, is encouraging want-to-be volunteers to embrace the spirit of National Volunteer Week through volunteer tourism.

“People are increasingly time poor, and many people struggle to find time to volunteer,” Dr Coghlan said. “But by incorporating volunteering into your annual holiday, you can effectively create the time to volunteer.

“And the health benefits for volunteers are significant.”

Volunteer tourism involves tourists who travel for leisure and volunteer at the destination.

Typically, volunteering is channelled into either educational or humanitarian welfare projects. A volunteer can teach, support conservation projects or put the shoulder to the wheel and help with community construction projects that improve health and wellbeing in poor regions overseas.

Volunteer tourism has been growing in popularity, particularly among young travellers. It’s almost like a new form of initiation travel for the backpacker,” she says.

“But it has also come become a victim of its own success with commercial businesses increasingly moving into a space previously occupied by not-for-profit organisations.”

Dr Coghlan says the resultant commodification of the volunteer tourism sector is inevitable, and some worthwhile projects will fall by the wayside if they are not selling.

“This is the biggest issue associated with volunteer tourism but once you link these worthwhile projects with tourism, they’re at the mercy of tourist markets which are always demand-led, so it is somewhat inevitable.

“Instead I would encourage people to focus on the real health benefits to be gained from volunteer tourism.

“Social capital is equally as important as financial capital in terms of achieving better health, and volunteering is a means to this healthier end.

“It provides a healthier lifestyle in terms of personal development, better relationships, education, health and wellbeing.”

Dr Coghlan highlights the seven domains of health. These are physical health, spiritual health, social health, financial health, intellectual health, emotional health, environmental health.

“Volunteer tourism can be linked to most of these but it fits perfectly with the social domain of health as it builds relationships and opens our eyes and minds to new cultures.”

National Volunteer Week 2013 ends on Friday, May 19.