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In 2011, I had the pleasure of travelling to Jordan to meet with educators at thirteen different colleges and universities about the development of Voluntourism Jordan. As part of my research, I conducted focus groups with Jordanian colleagues in the areas of Sociology, Social Work, Archaeology, Tourism, and Business. Together, we explored the potential socio-cultural impacts and opportunities involved in combining volunteering and tourism in Jordan.

To read more about this project, visit: www.adventuretravelnews.com.

Over the last decade, Voluntourism has become a hot topic. Due to the intimate nature of Voluntourist experiences in communities, ethical concerns surrounding the nature of Voluntourism persist. In some cases, it is hard to determine just how much benefit there is to the communities receiving tourists both economically and socially. Whereas the debates for ecotourism focus on the environment, a good amount of the research about Voluntourism centres around the social and cultural impacts on both the hosts and tourists. To hear a great discussion about the pros and cons of Voluntourism, check out the video stream, The Rise of Voluntourism at http://www.ideastream.org/soi/ entry/63637.

Given the pros and cons of Voluntourism, I would maintain that well-developed experiences have the potential to be mutually beneficial to both the tourists and host the community. I strongly encourage academics to consider a volunteer component in their study abroad experiences but to do so with caution and only with the guidance of already existing respected community organisations. Be wary of tourist organisations that do not have close ties to the local stakeholders or that do not support sustainable tourism principles and ethics.

Here are a few questions to consider before developing a volunteer programme abroad:
  1. Who is responsible Voluntourism experience?
  2. How are the volunteer projects for tourists identified? Examine whether or not the local community really needs your project.
  3. Are you displacing local workers by offering free services?
  4. Who benefits financially from any fees you pay?
  5. Do you have the appropriate skills required for the service you want to provide?
  6. What should you, your colleagues or your students know about the culture before you visit?
  7. Is there anything that the local community should know about your students and culture before you travel there?

Finding the right programme can be overwhelming and challenging. Developing something new can become time-intensive but the invested time is worth the outcome. Contact local organisations in your area of expertise in the location you are interested in volunteering. This is the best way to investigate what is needed and what may already exist. Voluntourism.org offers insights and current information about Voluntourism, which can be a good starting point.

Visiting Jordan to explore Voluntourism was a truly life-changing experience for me. The colleagues I met offered such insightful information about their culture. People were kind, eager to learn about our research and so insightful. I was struck by their hospitality. No matter where I was, or where I went, I was invited in for tea and conversation. Anyone participating in the Voluntourism programmes that I explored in Jordan could gain a lot of perspective about the rich history and culture in Jordan.

By Dr Jan L. Jones

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