Voluntourism encourages us to leave a good impression
AUSTRALIANS are slow to put their hands in their pockets when it comes to donating money but have a growing interest in volunteering. About one-third of the approximately 8000 Australians earning more than $1 million a year typically ‘‘make no gift to charity,’’ says Simon McKeon, Australian of the Year 2011, who works part-time for the Global Poverty Project.
But grassroots volunteering is on the rise. Thirty-four per cent of adult Australians contribute their time each year, according to Volunteering Australia.
The concept broadly known as voluntourism involves a diverse array of opportunities.
Australian Volunteers for International Development was launched last month by Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd.
It is linked to a web portal (ausaidvolunteers.gov.au), providing a one-stop practical guide to how to make a difference abroad. Projects are scattered through Asia-Pacific, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. A goal of finding more than 1000 new ‘‘assignments’’ in 43 countries has been set for 2013.
Non-government organisations and travel companies create myriad short and medium-term volunteering getaways for tourists. Gap Adventures, Antipodeans and STA Travel (through Planeterra, i-to-i, Global Vision and Conservation Volunteers Australia) are just some of the operators inspiring Australians to extend a helping hand across the globe.
For example, Australians on voluntourism holidays have built houses in Cambodian villages, taught English in South American schools and offered emergency support during recent natural disasters in New Zealand and Japan.
On a broader front, the UN World Tourism Organization recognises that all tourism, when well-structured and ethical, brings benefits to local communities. Its volunteering website (unv.org) uses the tag ‘‘inspiration in action’’.