Voluntourism: good, bad and ugly

(November 2015)

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Hoi Yee Ding /// photo courtesy of Ms. Ding

A former lifeguard, weighed down by 30-50 lb. equipment, struggled while learning how to swim all over again along the Honduras Barrier Reef, scuba diving and collecting data for Reef Conservation International.

 

Hoi Yee Ding’s childhood dream lay under the sea, but the 30-year-old Toronto clerical worker left behind her passion, marine biology, back in university.

In 2014, years later, swimming around vivid parrot fish, queen conchs, dangerous sharks and invasive lionfish, rekindled what Disney’s The Little Mermaid first inspired in her life.

“You sometimes move away from passion and rediscover it when you have a chance,” Ding says. “That’s why I wanted to look for volunteer experience in marine life. The first few days (diving) is a little bit scary, it’s literally learning how to swim all over again.”

Changing her regular vacationer routine after travelling across North America, Europe and Asia, she searched for possibilities to give back to the world and planet Earth.

A research report by travel analyst Henry Harteveld, shows Ding is one of over 3.5 million people embarking on international volunteer trips each year. The multi-billion dollar volunteer tourism industry – also known as voluntourism – is the fastest growing sector in the travel space, according to CBC documentary Volunteers Unleashed.

It is also the most controversial, following instances where voluntourists take jobs beyond their training or ability while rushing to provide international aid.

“Medical students operating on people… the dangers of that,” says Jacob Taddy, founder and director of Onwards Inc. “Or I think teachers is the one that really hit home with me, we wouldn’t allow a random high schooler to walk into our elementary school and teach our kids, but it’s totally fine over there (in developing countries.)”

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