I was disgusted to come across this article the other day on a new voluntourism cruise. ‘Fathom’ is the first cruise line dedicated entirely to voluntourism, offering seven-day volunteer cruises. That’s right, SEVEN DAYS to make an impact in a developing country. The ship carries 700 passengers and sails year-round from Miami to the Dominican Republic. The website states, “It’s only a few days of your life. That doesn’t sound like much. But it could positively impact the course of somebody else’s life forever.”
WRONG. Let’s look at the volunteering opportunities they offer.
ENVIRONMENTAL – You can participate in the production and distribution of more than 5,000 clay water filters. But wouldn’t it be better to make a donation so that local workers can early a salary to make these filters instead?
EDUCATION – You can work with students and other community members to help them improve their English skills. Instead of moving in and out of these children’s lives, wouldn’t it be better to support the stipend for a long-term volunteer who can capacity build teachers there so that they then have the ability to engage in English conversation with their teachers instead?
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT – Travellers can have a ‘positive, hands-on impact’ in the cultivation of cacao plants and recycled paper crafts. Wouldn’t it be better to just shop here, and at other local businesses to support the economy?
It seems to me like this cruise is just to make people feel good about themselves, not to actually have a positive and lasting impact on the community. I am a big believer that sustainability and empowerment are what developing countries need to move out of poverty, and this year-round voluntourism isn’t going to achieve that.