Compassionate Tourism
January 10, 2005 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Is there such a thing as "compassionate tourism" where people travel and volunteer their time/resources in rebuilding, in this case, the tsunami-hit South Asian region?
posted by azul to Travel & Transportation (16 answers total)
Contact your local church.
posted by caddis at 7:48 PM on January 10, 2005

I don't know of any organizations sponsoring
"compassionate tourism" - but Instapundit had a good suggestion about how to help those countries affected - visit them right now.

Also see this link from the same Instapundit thread.

I am sure if you were ask a relief organization or police, fire/ems representative at the scene you would be put to work.
posted by mlis at 8:05 PM on January 10, 2005

I found this via the American Friends Service Committee site. Looks like it might be something along the lines you are looking for.
posted by sillygit at 8:17 PM on January 10, 2005

Yes, churches do this sort of stuff a lot. Also, there was a report on the local news recently about these guys who had planned a simple vacation to Thailand before the tsunami hit and now they're still going, but to help out -- I think the Red Cross was mentioned as someone they were in contact with.
posted by dagnyscott at 9:23 PM on January 10, 2005

Peace Corps or others like them?
posted by pemdasi at 9:32 PM on January 10, 2005

In India, Ammachi has spearheaded quite a few relief efforts and projects. Although one project to build shelter for thse left homeless is complete, you could get information about what is happening now and how you might help them by emailing the ashram. Amma's humanitarian activities are ongoing.

Amma welcomes all people. Residence at the ashram is not expensive.
posted by jaruwaan at 10:00 PM on January 10, 2005

And I meant to say, wherever/however you help, kudos for your willingness to roll your sleeves up this way!
posted by jaruwaan at 10:44 PM on January 10, 2005

I used a forerunner of this organization when I volunteered overseas in the eighties. They placed volunteers wherever they'd serve best, taking into account preferences.

You may not get into the most recent catatrophe zone, but there's lots of work to be done elsewhere.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:34 PM on January 10, 2005

Habitat for Humanity does stuff in the region as well.
posted by amberglow at 5:13 AM on January 11, 2005

I've heard it said multiple times that the last thing the tsunami-hit region needs right now is more people. It's a bigger drain on resources (like fresh water) than it is a benefit at this point, because there are more people than infrastructure to organize their work. The impulse is right, though, and, as goofyfoot says, there's lots to do elsewhere.
posted by blueshammer at 6:57 AM on January 11, 2005

If it doesn't exist, it should. This would be an excellent business to start.

Volunteering to go to South Asia in 3 - 6 months to help rebuild, especially if you have carpentry or electrician skills, might be a good thing.
posted by theora55 at 7:41 AM on January 11, 2005

Based on several years experience*, I think that there is a range of 'compassionate tourists,' who run the gamut from inept/burdensome, to practical/useful.

About the worst are folks who just show up with some vague idea of 'wanting to help.' They are often inexperienced at living at local (rather than western/tourist/backpacker) standards of living, and are thus a resource suck on the locals, who will want to host them at a western level of comfort. NGOs will usually ignore these types, too, as such organizations will have their own infrastructure in place, and it will be a pain for them to integrate new people.

At the other end, I have known several (although not many) highly resourceful westerners who have made significant contributions to helping local NGOs. They have however decided to dedicate their lives (rather than a few months) to doing this. Overall, the ratio of good:bad is quite low.

In the middle are most other folks, who may have applied for a placement on a project, who come with some idea of what they want to do, who don't whine about local food and accomodation, who generally interact well with their hosts, who may spread the word and raise funds when they return, etc.

Note: what may count as skills in the west (e.g. carpentry, wiring) may count for little in Asia, as everything may be of different quality. Power tools may not exist (power may not exist), other tools may be locally made and of poor quality compared to western tools, materials and construction techniques may be different, work culture may be different. etc. Time after time I have seen tourists who may have been competent at what they do in the west, become incredibly frustrated and angry because locals 'do not know how to get things done properly.'

Note also: Some development agencies - often the small ones - that offer placements, can be informal scams. Basically you get charged a placement/admin fee, that does not really get passed on to the locals, but instead suppports the NGO - i.e. pays for the international travel of the person(s) running the placement organization. The locals receive some cash for proividing you with bed and board.

While the impulse to help can be very genuine, complex situations on the ground may make it hard to help, especially for people who just show up. Such people may well be more of a burden than a help. If you really want to do this, get to know an aid agency/NGO, and see what you can do for them, and note that this will probably *not* involve going to the 'front line,' at least for a while. Ideally, from the NGO's point of view, they want committed people, not tourists, however well-meaning.

*I 'hung out' in the Himalayas for a while. I got to know several western and/or local NGOs, and would help them when asked - this generally involved inputting and laying out newsletters on a word processor, and troubleshooting their computers and printers, which they ran off of a solar array and deep-cycle batteries.
posted by carter at 8:39 AM on January 11, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks Carter and everyone for your input.
posted by azul at 9:21 AM on January 11, 2005

Check Intrepid Travel. They have tours in conjunction with a number of different charities, including Oxfam. Don't think they're travelling in the worst of the tsunami-afflicted areas quite yet, but I expect that they will soon enough.
posted by desuetude at 9:53 AM on January 11, 2005

check out here and here for an idea of what you might be in for if you do volunteer right now.
posted by jennyjenny at 2:05 PM on January 11, 2005

jennyjenny the links are broken.
posted by mlis at 2:54 PM on January 11, 2005

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