#TravelingMoms and Voluntourism

TMOMlogo_WebLast evening (16 December 2013) #TravelingMoms ran a Twitter Chat on voluntourism. Twitter chats on voluntourism are not new – #TravelDudes has run them, among others, with the #TTOT hashtag associated with the discussion. It should be noted, however, that 140 characters can do wonders in terms of delivering a concentrated question to which one will need to deliver a concise response. In some ways, this may lend itself to a more informed kind of voluntourism, and, in the case of moms, this is something to which we should pay very close attention. More on this a bit later.

To begin, let’s look at the questions asked last evening.

#TravelingMoms #Voluntourism Twitter Chat Questions (16 December 2013):

1) How do U give back when U travel?

2) What is your dream #voluntourism vacay?

3) How do you find family #voluntourism opps?

4) Have U had to travel for medical reasons? who helped U?

5) How can hotels/resorts make it easier for families to give back?

6) How much of a family vacation should be #voluntourism? why?

For those in the voluntourism space, the answers to these questions are certainly worth reviewing. What I found most interesting, I think, were the answers to question #3. The women who responded began to recognize that as #TravelingMoms they can begin sharing amongst themselves what is possible for other moms interested in voluntouring – this could mean identifying projects in their home destinations, experiences they had had elsewhere, what have you. It was as though I was observing the birth of a new type of voluntourism – a “Mom Voluntourism” – that will be defined by mothers who can see themselves in multiple roles – participants, advisers (to and amongst themselves), and hosts.

The “Morality of Justice” & the “Morality of Care” Dilemma and Balancing Family Leisure & Giving Back

Whether moms are being drawn to voluntourism because of the personal moral growth & development that occurs for them, or to nurture the moral growth & development of their children, or neither, or both, or something else, is yet to be discovered. No research has been conducted in this area, but I certainly hope that researchers are able to explore it in the future. And the #travelingmoms would be a great group to speak with about such research.

Clearly, there is some sense that moms are aware of the importance of voluntourism as a moral growth & development tool – not just a “let’s give back to the poor children/people/environment in the world.” They know their families need vacations; they also know their families need to give back. It is not an either/or proposition – voluntourism seems to fit well within this integrated thinking.

Moral development in young people is incredibly important. In many ways it can determine to what degree an individual will develop in her/his lifetime, or not. Theories around moral development have been evolving for the better part of the past century, dating back to the work of Piaget (1932). Building on the work of Piaget, in 1958, Kohlberg introduced his theory of Moral Development as it pertains to rights and justice – what we will refer to as the “Morality of Justice.” A couple of decades later Gilligan introduced what she felt had been overlooked in Kohlberg’s work, which was a female-gender perspective in the context of Moral Development. To this end, Gilligan introduced us to the concept of the “Morality of Care.” Most recently, Wilber has discussed Moral Development in the context of Integrally-informed Development. (See figure below.)

Moral Development

Stages of Moral Development from an Integral Perspective – Brian McConnell

Creating a Working Voluntourism Model for Moms

What is of interest to us, in particular, is how moms are able to navigate the Morality of Justice, the Morality of Care, and Moral Development from an Integral Perspective for themselves and their families, especially their children, through voluntourism experiences. Whether this is done consciously or unconsciously, it would be better if we were able to create a map of how these experiences can enhance the overall moral development of children. Could a certain type of experience at a certain age be more meaningful for children? A certain location? A certain cultural interaction?

If researchers could begin to unpack voluntourism and the different developmental features of these kinds of experiences, we would do far better in developing the experiences. What’s more, if we knew about these things we could also begin to work with the moms of host communities who would be interested in similar types of growth & development opportunities for their children. Seeing voluntourism as a catalyzing learning engagement and opportunity, we can start working from both perspectives – that of host communities’ moms and voluntourism moms who take their families on these types of experiences.

Final Thoughts… No More Missed Opportunities?

I have often stressed the importance of being consciously aware of the integration of voluntary service and travel & tourism. As an experience, there is no question that growth & development is possible on the part of participants. What we have not done, and I am certainly at fault in this regard, is take the time to explore exactly what this growth & development is and how it may be transferred to all stakeholders and, most important of all, how it may be expanded upon.

We would do well to get some developmental psychologists out into the field engaging with voluntourism experiences, to speak with moms in host communities and moms who take their families out as voluntourists. As voluntourism becomes more of a life practice for moms across the planet, not merely a “what are we going to do on vacation this year” kind of experience, we may uncover some items that move voluntourism from the discussion of what is missing or incomplete about it to a discussion of its intrinsic and extrinsic benefits.

If moms need not rely wholly on their intuitions to convince their families of the value of voluntourism, we could see a significant shift in the number of voluntourists in the world as well as host communities taking greater ownership and desire to have voluntourists come into their communities. “It takes a village…” the saying goes; it might take a village of moms and researchers to help us realize what voluntourism may do for our individual and collective advancement. Nevertheless, we seem to be gradually moving in that direction.


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