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Volunteer tourism?

volunteersThe Irish Aid Responsible Volunteering Fair took place in the Irish Aid offices in O’Connell St on Saturday September 26th,2009.   John Guiney SJ  and Deirdre Brady of the Mission Office and Debbie Moore of Sli Eile manned the Jesuit volunteer desk, which offered possibilities of short term and long term volunteering. Our picture shows John with Mesmour, born in Ethiopia, Irish raised and raised in Ireland. Hundreds of people turned up to seek information from the 23 organizations present.  The majority were women inquirers and it is remarkable how the humanitarian world, like the Church world, has a majority women enthusiasts.

It was clear that everyone who came to the fair was seeking something different for their lives and everyone remarked how there was a great buzz of energy in the air. The inquirers ranged from people who are taking early retirement, to people who have been made redundant who wish to do something meaningful with their lives, to people who are cultural adventurers, and people who are in steady but meaningless jobs and wish to make a difference with their lives.  It seemed like a vocation seminar. Many were seeking new directions in their lives and some just wanted to talk. It was notable that Irish Aid inserted in their advertising of the event “responsible volunteering fair”.

Some would argue that they should add the word ethical, since the world of volunteering in Ireland and Europe has become an industry and there is a danger of a new volunteer imperialism of the southern hemisphere taking place.  Some concerned stakeholders in the northern and southern hemispheres call for a serious reflection and evaluation on the long-term impact of hordes of white volunteers full of good intentions and good will descending on poor communities in Asia and Africa for 3 to 6 weeks. One wonders if there is always a reciprocal benefit to the host community or is it all one-way benefit for the volunteer tourist? There is indeed space for codes of better practice to be explored by faith-based organizations that can complement ones drawn up by other organizations.

All agreed that this is a great occasion for different organizations to be aware of one another and to get to know the desires of many who want to make a difference. The Jesuit desk agreed that this was a wonderful occasion to advertise what the Irish Jesuits do for international outreach and to promote together the Ignatian model of volunteering.