I have been watching social media and journalists over the past couple of weeks clamoring to warn the Planet to avoid another Haiti in Nepal. The humanity in me that has the privilege to observe and speculate as to what is happening to the people on the ground there is like a claustrophobic cataclysm, churning with the compulsion of compassion and not knowing. “Nepal does not allow volunteers into its borders without the proper paperwork,” I say to myself. “How on earth will they be able to handle the onrush of individuals seeking to quell the tide of not knowing, the compulsion of compassion, the inextricably inherent call within each and every human (which can be, and often is, ignored) that cannot witness the suffering of another and sit idly by?”
As a collective humanity, we are poorly equipped to bundle the emotional outpouring from our individual beings. We fear, on some level, becoming desensitized, dissociative, and utterly numb to the suffering of others. Yet, with each passing natural disaster, being asked again and again to sit idly by and leave the work to be done in the hands of professionals, are we not running the risk of realizing our worst fears?
Is There A Plan?
One of the first people who came to mind following this disaster was John Wood, author of Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, and founder of Room to Read. I then thought of Dr. Hari Bansh Jha, an Economics professor known for his deep interest in the intersection of spiritualism and Economics, and with whom I have corresponded over the years about voluntourism in Nepal. I thought of Social Tours, one of the first company’s I ever wrote about regarding their unique approach to voluntourism in Nepal. I thought of all of the Nepalese individuals who have contacted me over the years, and what this might mean to them. I thought of all of the voluntourists who have been to Nepal and what they might be experiencing during these days and weeks following.
As it is, Nepal is made for voluntourism. This is a fact. It may not be a fact that many people like. Orphanage voluntourism in Nepal has received negative reviews from Western media. And, although volunteers are required to have the proper paperwork to volunteer in the country, oftentimes these regulations are circumnavigated, or utterly ignored.
So, we know voluntourists will go to Nepal. The question is, what are we going to do to assist them in the process? And what will it take for the United Nations to come up with a global plan to respond to natural disasters that incorporates voluntourism?!?
Integrating Voluntourism Into Disaster Response
In the years that have followed the Boxing Day Tsunami in Southeast Asia, we have had many natural disasters throughout the world. The death tolls may vary, the damage, too; what does not seem to vary, however, is the growing interest to do more than send money. More and more people want to do more and more to help with their own two hands and feet and with whatever skills and passion and mental capacity they can infuse into the situation. Yet, all too often, we spend more energy convincing these individuals that what they have to offer is meaningless and should be limited to whatever they can give financially. We are grossly underestimating what contributions may be made by these individuals by dismissing them so blithely.
For more than a decade, I have been consistently questioning our collective inability to birth a conceptual framework for integrating voluntourism into the recovery of destinations. The socio-economic impact of voluntourism can be extraordinarily beneficial for destinations. This does not mean that we begin the voluntourism train running to Nepal immediately – of course not! What it means is that we can begin to assess the situation on the ground and utilize our growing capabilities around GPS mapping, and video, audio, and photographic technology, to determine where voluntourism groups could initially be deployed.
The desire to respond to natural disasters will not disappear as humanity moves forward. We need a plan to harness this energy.
Just as Tesla has given us a solar-powered battery to power our homes, so, too, should we be able to develop a systematic process to harness the growing energy for assisting ourselves in the aftermath of disasters. Money is NOT the only answer. Humanity is what is most needed in these disaster zones. Recovery is inextricably linked to our humanity. I have seen and heard this in New Orleans, for example, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Let’s get busy designing our own power source that harnesses the human energy that wants to soften the blow of natural disasters for the residents impacted thereby. We cannot keep falling back on old arguments and old paradigms for why it needs to be done the way it has always been done, and by competent professionals alone. At some point, we can’t keep relying on the old electric grid, as Elon Musk has pointed out. We need to create change, be fierce in our discovery and R&D phases.
Let’s avoid another Haiti in Nepal by crafting a plan that truly harnesses the power of voluntourism. There are enough interested parties to do so. We have the creative capacity to make it so.