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Volunteer Abroad with a Clean Conscience

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  • Stephen Knight
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    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 6, 2009
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      Article Title:

      Volunteer Abroad with a Clean Conscience

      Article Description:

      Guidance for anyone thinking of volunteering abroad who is
      concerned about the negative impact of air travel.

      Additional Article Information:

      923 Words; formatted to 65 Characters per Line
      Distribution Date and Time: 2009-08-06 12:00:00

      Written By: Stephen Knight
      Copyright: 2009
      Contact Email: mailto:info@...

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      Volunteer Abroad with a Clean Conscience
      Copyright (c) 2009 Stephen Knight
      Volunteer Latin America

      It is understandable why the green lobby and the tourism
      industry has brought into question the justification for
      volunteering abroad and why volunteers sometimes feel like
      they are caught in a conundrum.

      Global warming is one of the most serious threats facing the
      world and some of the leading campaign groups have stated that
      the most ethical thing we can do for the environment is to stay
      at home. Whilst we can all agree that the best form of travel is
      to avoid flying, we should not stop flying altogether. That would
      send us back to the dark ages with massive unemployment (1 in 10
      people work in the tourism sector), business recession, and
      increased poverty (deepening recession, increased unemployment
      and worsening poverty is not conducive to creating new lower
      carbon technologies and lifestyles).

      There are many people who rely on tourism for their livelihoods
      and many natural habitats depend on visitors for their survival.
      If you want evidence of this you should look no further than
      Latin America. Tourism is a big contributor to the economy of
      many Latin American countries and the industry generated nearly
      US$2 billion in Costa Rica alone in 2007 (three-fifths of GNP).
      Tourism helps support some of Latin America's most fragile
      natural habitats and if we stopped flying there many national
      parks and private reserves will lose their incomes, deforestation
      will increase and global warming will accelerate. Unless we
      support the people and communities now making money through
      ecotourism they have no other choice but to exploit natural

      Similarly, it is worth noting the importance of international
      volunteers to conservation efforts in the region. Without the
      commitment and financial support of international volunteers,
      many organizations would be unable to carry out their vital work.
      This is because there is generally very little governmental or
      outside support for these organisations and the projects which
      they manage. Your contribution as a volunteer could help ensure
      the long-term survival of a tropical forest or an endangered
      species. This is because you are actively participating in the
      conservation of that habitat or species. The participation of
      international volunteers also enables money to reach grassroots
      level of society and this can change a small communities
      perception of their environment or an endangered species.

      The question of whether it is possible to be an ethical volunteer
      seems to largely rest on the ability to make informed choices
      before and during your trip. If you choose the right project,
      minimise the impact of your travel, maximise the benefits for
      local economies, and stay for a considerable period of time, then
      you can most definitely volunteer abroad with a clean conscience.

      It is worth mentioning the importance of choosing the right
      project before setting off and the key message is - do your
      research if you want to so some really valuable work. Prospective
      volunteers must examine the work they will be doing and how it
      affects local people and the natural environment. Although there
      are some good placement companies out there, a do-it-yourself
      placement is the most ethical form of volunteering as you work
      directly with the host organization. You also have the assurance
      that all your money goes to the cause rather than paying for the
      marketing and administration expenses of a volunteer placement
      (sending) agency. If you opt to work through an agency please be
      aware that some of these agencies offer little more than
      glorified holidays and others are more interested in making money
      than helping the environment or providing sustainable and
      well-targeted help for local communities. No one benefits from
      these placements apart from the companies that organise them. An
      ethical volunteer ensures that as much of their money as possible
      reaches the grassroots level of society. Eco-conscious travellers
      should consider contributing to a project that helps reduce the
      impact of climate change and/or provides a hands-on approach to
      offsetting their own carbon emissions.

      It is also worth mentioning the length of time volunteers spend
      overseas. You are clearly going to do more harm than good if you
      travel all the way to Costa Rica from the UK (a carbon-heavy
      8,700km flight) to rescue sea turtles and stay for only a few
      weeks. To maximise the benefits for local communities and negate
      the environmental impact of your flight you need to contribute to
      a project for a much longer period of time. A long stay is more
      sustainable if travelling long distances as this will enable you
      to minimise the impact of your flight. The time spent as a
      volunteer is time not spent contributing to carbon emissions in
      your home country (i.e. non use of home appliances, zero
      emissions form you car, etc). A long stay also eliminates the
      need to take several shorter holidays throughout the year.

      In reality, the dramatic growth in short breaks and cheap flights
      is a more pressing issue than questioning the justification for
      volunteering abroad, particularly if volunteers wish to devote
      their time and energy to do something positive for the
      environment. Those who want to stop us flying should focus more
      on the business and the leisure side of flying rather people
      wanting to make a difference (e.g. those that fly with a
      purpose). The destruction of the Amazon and other tropical
      forests around the world should also be a priority for campaign
      groups (e.g. air travel accounts for less than 5% of carbon
      dioxide emissions, clearing tropical forests for agriculture is
      estimated to produce 18% of the world's carbon dioxide emissions
      - more than the entire global transport system).

      Stephen Knight is the webmaster of Volunteer Latin
      America and the main contributor to the Latin Lounge
      (http://www.volunteerlatinamericablog.com/). We enable
      volunteers to work abroad without paying large
      participation or placement fees. We are your gateway
      to independent volunteering in Central and South America.
      Learn more at: http://www.volunteerlatinamerica.com/

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