Voluntourism: The New Way to Travel

Do travel and leisure always have to go hand-in-hand? In this digital age when social media reigns supreme, we’re all guilty of scrolling through our Instagram or Facebook feed while checking out picturesque shots of breathtaking places.

There seems to be this constant need to update the world about our globetrotting adventures and it begs the question: is there more to travel than how we perceive it?

What if we were to embark on global missions to mitigate issues and provide relief efforts? The act of travelling solely to do good while focusing on improving lives seems to be a trend. The purpose of travel these days, thankfully, is no longer limited to just fun vacations or business trips.

What is voluntourism?

voluntourism travel
Image credit: Hug It Forward

Voluntourism refers to the act of making a difference by effecting change in a particular destination. It is not a long-term involvement but rather, service it encapsulates projects where volunteers will assist in basic construction, painting, tutoring in English, distributing food and relief supplies, or provide social support.

This trend came about when well-established organisations such as UNICEF, CARE International, World Vision and Save the Children implemented transformative initiatives. They raise funds for programmes specifically curated to render help to orphans and vulnerable children. Moreover, the introduction of modern communication technology made it easy to arouse compassion and initiate a call to action.

Examples of voluntourism

voluntourism travel
Image credit: Sufi Rohaizad

Locally, NGOs do their part to promote overseas programmes and missions to support a particular cause. Global Ehsan Relief, for example, has been making headlines by providing humanitarian aid worldwide.

Their programmes, such as “Care For Hunger” and “Care For Orphans”, have gone a long way in combating poverty and providing healthcare along with education. Other initiatives include mosque construction and repairs, buildingmadrasahs (Islamic schools) and creating places of ablution for local residents.

voluntourism travel
Image credit: Singapore International Foundation

Other companies like the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) have Volunteer Cooperation programmes, which include providing essential supplies such as potable water to rural communities. Moreover, through overseas events such as SIF Connects!, Singaporeans and world communities are encouraged to collaborate and promote understanding amongst each other.  

Should voluntourism be encouraged?

The Holy Quran strongly advocates for charity and travel in its verses. In Surah Al-Baqarah, it is quoted that, “The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn); it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. And Allah gives manifold increase to whom He wills. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.” [2:261]

In a separate prose in Surah Al-Hajj, the Quran also mentions this: “Do they then not travel through the Earth, so that their minds gain wisdom and their ears thus learn to hear?” [22:46]

The rewards reaped from both these verses are no doubt valuable. Travel shapes and moulds you by broadening your horizons. The exposure to unique cultures, varying ethnicities and foreign languages enhances the overall travel experience. The power of travel cannot be underestimated and when combined with the act of giving back to the less fortunate, the whole notion of voluntourism does seem to fit perfectly.

In the modern age, it’s easy to be swept away by silk screens of social media, where travel becomes an incentive to decorate your pages with fancy shots. Just take a minute to ponder about today’s purpose of travel and determine if it’s right. Do the thousands of dollars spent on trips tally with your own personal growth? Think about it.

Also read: Travelogue with Sufi Rohaizad, The Humanitarian Photographer

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