Combining volunteering with tourism became a trend over the past few years. The result is an act referred to as "voluntourism". Instead of spending time visiting touristic spots or relaxing at fancy resorts, many people around the world are considering going to other countries in order to learn about different cultures in a deeper way. At the same time, they can engage and assist with local issues. These individuals are willing to step out of their comfort zone and experience the world in a more raw form. Around 10 million volunteers spend more than $2 billion per year on volunteering trips, according to Nancy Gard McGehee, an expert on sustainable tourism at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
Working with local NGOs around the globe, United Planet Peru is an organization that offers volunteer abroad opportunities in 27 countries. Peru is one destination bustling with opportunities. Located in the capital of Cusco, since 2005, United Planet Peru offers programs relating to health, children and education, and environmental sustainability. Their work strives to support the country by increasing the quality of basic services and closing infrastructure gaps. The volunteers can live with host families and learn Spanish while doing their volunteer work. United Planet Peru believes that creating a global community and building relationships between people of diverse backgrounds are the basic building blocks for increased cultural understanding.
Despite its obvious good intentions, voluntourism has also been criticized by some who claim that volunteers often lack the capacity required to work in the programs that they apply for. Foreign labour is another complaint by locals who see these individuals as a source for cheap employment, instead of hiring local staff. One example that illustrates the criticism is the Instagram account Barbie Saviour. With more than 120,000 followers, it pokes fun of the "white savior complex", a term used to describe Caucasian individuals who aim to fix problems in less favorable nations, without really understanding their culture and real needs. United Planet is unique in the sense that the volunteer projects in question are run by local people, for local people. Volunteers who participate in these projects come in to help facilitate, not dictate, and money is never the end goal. All volunteers are carefully screened and selected, to be sure that both the organization and the volunteer are an amicable match, and that skills are enriched, not lost, on either side.
Photographer Barbara Delgado travelled to Cusco, Peru to document the everyday work of United Planet. From her experience, she reinforces that the organization does not fit the description of the stereotypes associated with volunteerism. "The volunteers working with United Planet not only seem to enjoy their work but seem to benefit from it," Delgado said. "These volunteers are really changing the lives of so many people, especially children and though some of the things they experience may be tough in return, I feel they are ultimately more appreciative of their own lives." Delgado especially loved witnessing the difference that the volunteers made in the everyday lives of so many people. "The little things are what seemed to make a world of a difference," Delgado said. "Seeing the reaction on the children's faces when these volunteers would show up was priceless."
Theresa Higgs, United Planet’s Vice President of Global Operations, emphasizes the benefit of having international people work with civilians to address local issues. “Local NGOs serve the local communities in important ways and our volunteers offer their time, work and expertise to support the local staff," Higgins said. "United Planet volunteers also bring a diverse perspective, new resources and access to the world outside of the local community to children and other community members who may not otherwise have that kind of interaction and access."
To know more about United Planet Peru click here.
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