Muir Beach filmmakers Steve and Joanie Wynn recently received three regional Emmy awards for their “voluntourism” documentary Journeys for Good: Cambodia. “Volunteer travel, or ‘voluntourism,’ is an emerging trend in travel that can have many positive benefits for families,” Joanie says. The Wynns travel with their 11-year-old son, Ryan, and have experienced those benefits (as well as challenges) firsthand. For children, voluntourism “helps to foster a sense of global citizenship, broaden understanding of different cultures and develop empathy,” Joanie says. “For parents, it offers a sense of cultural immersion well beyond the tourist track, and it can be a positive bonding opportunity for everyone.” Here are the Wynns’ tips for finding the right tour.
CONSIDER AGE It’s essential to choose an experience and location that is age appropriate. Look for a voluntour provider geared to families.
KEEP IT LOCAL The best volunteer projects are locally driven, wherein volunteers work alongside locals to augment projects with their own sweat equity.
WILL IT LAST? Consider the sustainability of a project. Handouts or donations are Band-Aids that create dependency without addressing underlying issues. Look for projects with long-term benefits.
AVOID SCAMS Be wary of orphanage visits. Although these types of experiences sound good, there have been some abuses (especially in Cambodia) with orphanages being developed solely to attract Western dollars.
HAVE FUN Prep your children with photos, videos and kid-friendly books so they’ll know what to expect. Make sure to schedule some fun time in your trip so that it’s not all work and no play.
RESOURCES Pepy Tours (pepytours.com) has a great guide to help future volunteers choose a responsible placement. You can also find inspiration in trips profiled on the Journeys for Good website (journeys4good.com).