More Thoughts on Voluntourism
This month I was saddened to learn that the Fathom cruise line will cease sailing by summer 2017. Some of you read about my June cruise to the Dominican Republic with Fathom. While docked for three days at Puerto Plata, passengers had opportunity to participate in community development activities. I helped a family learn English and volunteered at two women's cooperatives, one making chocolate, the other recycled paper. My husband helped put a concrete floor in a dirt floor house. Before the trip, I'd wondered whether volunteer efforts by vacationers had any lasting social impact. In the case of Fathom, I was very impressed with what I saw and experienced. The programs were done in conjunction with local agencies with a long history in the country. The impact was made not by any one group of travellers but by the cumulative efforts of vacationers week after week.
The community development activities are continuing, available as shore excursions to other Carnival line cruise ships docking in Puerto Plata. I hope there is enough interest to keep the programs going, but I think both travellers and those being helped in the Dominican are loosing out. There was a focus on board Fathom on social change and personal growth. Activities prepared us for the volunteer shore excursions. It made for a richer experience for the passengers and helped us be more respectful and serious about the work on the ground.
The change highlights one of the dangers of work like this being done by for-profit companies. They pull out when profits fall, the trend becomes less popular or other opportunities pop up. Non-profit company initiatives can also be at risk when funding sources dry up, but some argue their commitment is stronger and more focused on the work.