Friday, January 23, 2009

The view from Cameroon

British ex-pat Steve Jackson writes a somewhat colourful, often cranky and usually entertaining blog called Our Man in Cameroon, documenting his life as a VSO worker in Africa. In a recent post, he wonders why the development charity is having trouble recruiting the 10 people needed for his location in Bamenda, and grouses that many people are willing to pay lots of money to join a voluntourism project but are loath to sign up for a paying VSO gig.

I can see his point, in a way, but I also think he overlooks the fact that not everyone can commit months or years of their lives to serve with non-profit groups abroad. And while some voluntourism projects may well be little more than "singing Kum by Yah and painting murals," as Jackson pithily puts it, others do provide willing hands to work on valuable projects that might otherwise go undone. (National park trail maintenance projects and Habitat for Humanity builds are two examples that spring to mind, but there are many others.) And the money voluntourists pay to join these projects sometimes goes to support the underlying non-profit groups in their other work.

So while, yes, it's indisputable that people who stay abroad for several years doing aid work get a deeper experience than those who spend a week or two hammering nails or clearing brush, I don't think it's an either/or sort of situation. Not everyone is suited for both types of travel. And perhaps some of those who get a taste for a week might come back for a year.

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