'Volunteer tourism' puts charity work at risk

VSO says a "holiday attitude" to overseas volunteering is putting its work at risk. The international development charity is concerned that volunteers want to pick and choose where they give help, instead of deciding based on communities' need for their skills.

Its is struggling to recruit volunteers to work in Pakistan, Nigeria, Eritrea, Sri Lanka and Mongolia and says its work in these countries is at risk if volunteers cannot be found.

"With the rise of consumer driven volunteer tourism, increasingly people are coming to us with a clear idea of where they'd like to go, as if it's a holiday,” said Richard Hawkes, VSO's international programmes director. “This attitude is not good for development.”

Negative media portrayal and public perceptions of certain regions as ‘danger zones’ are resulting in volunteers seeking placements to countries thought to be more stable like Ethiopia, Cambodia, or Malawi, Hawkes said.

The charity is urgently seeking people with skills in education, health, business and management in its five least popular countries. It is stressing that VSO volunteers only work in areas where security risks are unlikely.

However, Hawke admitted that VSO could do to make its aims understood. “We haven’t necessarily communicated the extent to which we’ve changed,” he said. “It is our responsibility to be really clear on what we’re about and what we need.”

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