I am currently inking an article for a future issue of The VolunTourist Newsletter entitled “How To Become An Advanced VolunTourist.” This is no small feat, mind you. Integrating one’s values and understanding the role that one plays in the Grander Scheme can be lost in the midst of a world which moves ever-faster, inundated with new ideas and information by the millisecond.
The life of an advanced voluntourist is a fairly simple one. Travel becomes reduced to every step, every interaction; every point along the journey of life becomes an opportunity to remind oneself of how even in the midst of the familiar, one is very much a tourist, yet has countless options to render service. The thought of responsibility or sustainability is re-framed as a series of endless, continual, service-filled expressions of gratitude offered by an ever-growing host of individuals; undoubtedly, humanity can definitely use the little infusions generated by the wanderlust-filled volunteer. (And, by the looks of things when it comes to our simple ability to put food on the table, even some “developed” nations are having challenges with that.)
VolunTourism As Little Acts Of Kindness
WBUR Boston offered a recent (11 December 2013) reminder of what the little acts of kindness can (unwittingly no less) amass into over time. “Remembering Karim: A Lifetime of Kindness” shares the vignettes of those who were moved by a Lebanese man who pumped their gas over a 20-plus year period. Reading through, one can quickly see that Karim shared the best parts of himself – his culture, his love for people, and so much more – in every interaction, however short. And, at the end of his life, he graciously received the reciprocal gestures of those who had been moved by his kindnesses, regardless of the seeming insignificance of his actions at the time.
We may not always be pleased with the way voluntourism is unfolding in the world around us, but it is altering lives and approaches, and we should spend more time celebrating these – just as WBUR does with Karim’s life. Look at folks like Shannon O’Donnell – “A Little Adrift,” Jack – “the Wandering Volunteer,” and Kathryn and Mike Pisco – UnEarthTheWorld.com. And there are countless others whom I could mention. These individuals are incorporating voluntourism into their lives – identifying themselves as both tourists and volunteers – while making efforts to leave footrprints rather than craters, for one never knows who might be interested in following in her/his footsteps.
This is not to suggest that we cannot improve our lives as voluntourists (something I will build on in the future article). We can look with greater discernment at the developmental aspects of who and what we are and what we hope to become and make greater and greater efforts to improve these. Simply put, we are talking about expanding the conscious awareness of ourselves in the context of our voluntourism experiences.
What voluntourism can become, therefore, is a tool in the ever-expanding treasure chest of our life practices – tools that catalyze our growth and development and that of those around us. If we limit our view to voluntourism as something that must be an end-all-be-all for participants and communities alike, we are missing the point. Voluntourism can, in fact, be part of the life practice of host communities AND participants – it need not be either/or – but it cannot be held as the ONLY such tool and it must be consciously adapted and adopted in order to be fully effective.
Eventually, we will all want to be advancing & advanced voluntourists on this planet when we come to truly understand what voluntourism represents. Until then, look to those who are incorporating it into their life practices; see what you can do to become an advanced voluntourist; and, most important of all, share your stories – every little act counts!