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Abuse of voluntourism: beware of amalgamations

What is voluntourism?
A necessary reform of humanitarian tourism
Eco-volunteering or animal volunteering
Ethical charters for eco-volunteering
The impact of international volunteering on the environment

Articles on voluntourism are pouring out on the web and in the press. And for good reasons! There are many abuses, especially in Asia where orphanages, created to meet the needs of humanitarian tourism, supply underground networks of unscrupulous NGOs. The latter benefit from the outbursts of generosity and the desire for commitment of French volunteers eager to give meaning to their lives and to provide assistance to underprivileged populations. These so-called NGOs thus offer so-called charitable volunteering missions which actually hide a lucrative business. Both parties are victims:

  • the local populations on the one hand, because this humanitarian volunteering threatens their economy, and creates human tragedies as well as attachment disorders in children;
  • volunteers on the other hand, who find themselves, without knowing it, to support scandalous practices and who keep a bitter memory of their experience giving an end to their desire for commitment.

These abuses tarnish the voluntary sector, which is a vital engine for a better world.

What is voluntourism?

Mixed between volunteering and tourism, volunteering is an Anglo-Saxon term that designates the fact of going on a trip to help a humanitarian mission. It is often a question of bringing aid to disadvantaged local populations. The projects can be the literacy of young children, the creation of a school, they are always in connection with the human being and very often childhood.
Not having an “official” definition, this term can also define the missions of environmental volunteering or eco-volunteering.

A necessary reform of humanitarian tourism

The deputy Anne Genetet wishes to put an end to these shameful practices and has tabled a bill aimed at establishing a legislative framework for international volunteering: “Fight against certain abuses linked to voluntourism".
This reform is going in the right direction and Cybelle Planète is delighted with these new awareness. But it also warns against the risk of undesirable amalgams. This project is aimed at humanitarian volunteering but could have collateral effects on all volunteer structures, even the most ethical.
All the actors are not to be put in the same basket. Some associations are doing remarkable work, which is really useful for local populations and biodiversity. Their work should not be associated with “lucrative” tourism, even if they do not benefit from subsidies allowing them to support the participation of their volunteers. On the contrary, the financial contribution of volunteers in the form of a tax-deductible donation is a sustainable economic model for both the voluntary sector and for the State, knowing that this donation is largely donated to the project of 'Home. Ethics are not the prerogative of state structures like France Volontaire. Cybelle Planète does not have to be ashamed of its ethical and professional commitments to eco-volunteering.

Eco-volunteering or animal volunteering

The animal voluntary sector is not spared by abuses and bad practices (shelters supplying trophy hunting networks (canned hunting), swim with dolphins, shrines claiming to offer a well-deserved retirement to Elephants but who in reality continue to use them to meet the expectations of tourists in search of exoticism…). Cybelle Planète regularly publishes articles on its site or its Facebook pages denouncing these false good deeds and she calls on eco-volunteers to be vigilant.

Ethical charters for eco-volunteering

Wishing to set ethical rules for eco-volunteering, a sector governed by no official text, Cybelle Planète initiated two charters in 2014:

These documents are the result of participatory consultations public in which more than 400 participants were consulted: eco-volunteers, eco-volunteering structures, eco-responsible tour operators but also travelers, citizens, students, environmental associations ... These charters constitute a reference base for future eco-volunteers in terms of their commitments and choices of their mission or structure.

  • The ethical charter of eco-volunteering defines eight fundamental commitments facilitating the choice of the mission or structure of eco-volunteering.

All structures or associations offering animal volunteering and nature protection missions are invited to respect its 8 commitments guaranteeing an ethical and sustainable eco-volunteering. Cybelle Planète is committed point by point, and in full transparency, towards ethical charters.

The impact of international volunteering on the environment

Does the positive impact on biodiversity of eco-volunteering compensate for the environmental impact due to the presence of eco-volunteers?

Measuring the added value of eco-volunteering on the environment is not an easy exercise.
On the one hand, the impact of ecovolunteers on local biodiversity is very largely positive. Through his financial assistance in the form of a donation and his physical assistance in the field, he is a real support for local projects.
On the other hand, its impact on the environment, even if it is less than that of mass tourism (local food, more spartan accommodation (without air conditioning), more ecological (solar panels, dry toilets, etc.), remains higher. to that of the local standard.
Minimize as much as possible environmental impact travelers therefore seem essential for Cybelle Planète.

How to limit the impact of transport?

The question of the impact of volunteers on the environment is rarely asked. However, the missions are often abroad requiring long-haul journeys generating significant greenhouse gas emissions. For Cybelle Planète, it is therefore advisable, before integrating carbon offsetting, to prohibit short missions (less than 2 weeks) to distant destinations, and to favor those of 3 weeks or more. Discover Cybelle Planète measures for a more sustainable trip.

Integrate territorial compensation ©

Going further than carbon offsetting, often criticized as a right to pollute, territorial compensation© aims to directly compensate the territories impacted by travelers. This concept, directly linked to the real needs of the territories, was created in 2010 by three committed tour operators, including Jean-Pierre Lamic, the founding President of Eco-Responsible Travelers and Tour Operators (homeowners' association). It aims to support local programs for the preservation of the environment or local sustainable eco-development.
Eco-volunteering as proposed by Cybelle Planète is, in itself, a solution of territorial compensation.

For Cybelle Planète, all of its elements must be taken into account and integrated into a global reflection in order to move towards truly ethical and sustainable volunteering for the planet.

Posted on December 16, 2020.


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