As ‘Voluntourism’ Explodes In Popularity, Who’s It Helping Most?
As you plan — or even go — on your summer vacation, think about this: More and more Americans are no longer taking a few weeks off to suntan and sightsee abroad. Instead they’re working in orphanages, building schools and teaching English.
It’s called volunteer tourism, or “voluntourism,” and it’s one of the fastest growing trends in travel today. More than 1.6 million volunteer tourists are spending about $2 billion each year.
But some people who work in the industry are skeptical of voluntourism’s rising popularity. They question whether some trips help young adults pad their resumes or college applications more than they help those in need.
Judith Lopez Lopez, who runs a center for orphans outside Antigua, Guatemala, says she’s grateful for the help that volunteers give.
All visitors and volunteers get a big warm welcome when they walk in the doors of her facility, Prodesenh. It’s part orphanage, part after-school program and part community center.
Most of the kids at Prodesenh don’t have parents, Lopez says. They live with relatives. Some were abandoned by their mothers at birth. Others lost their fathers in accidents or to alcoholism.
There are three volunteers here now, all from the U.S. Lopez says they give the kids what they need most: love and encouragement.
One those volunteers is Kyle Winningham, who just graduated from the University of San Francisco with a degree in entrepreneurship. “Yeah, my real name is Kyle, but mi apodo aqui es Carlos,” he says.
Photo: Haley Nordeen, 19, is spending the entire summer at the Prodesenh center in San Mateo Milpas Altas, Guatemala. The American University student helped build the center’s new library. (Carrie Kahn/NPR)