BENGALURU: Basur Kiran, the founder of OutdoorWorld, a travel portal, points to the increasing number of requests for voluntourism. Every month, Basur has at least 10 to 12 guests signing up for his programme in Banavasi, a town, 400 km from the city. In addition to some sightseeing at the Yana Caves, Gudavi Bird Sanctuary and other tourist spots, one can volunteer to hold some reading sessions for the underprivileged students or donate to community learning or education of the poor.
"It’s a concept that’s quite popular in the West. In India, it’s still picking up. In fact, we have many foreigners opting for voluntourism," says Basur.
Over the last seven years that Basur has been organising these travels, he helps his clients with accommodation and activities--organic farming, teaching, storytelling or reading sessions-- which they can pursue. In fact, a substantial number of those showing interest in these activities are from the corporate sector. “This, in a way, is like a CSR activity. We’ve had young corporate employees holding workshops on
several subjects such as importance of learning computers and career guidance," he says.
He recalls an instance when a class eight student requested for additional academic books on one such voluntour programme. “One of the guests offered her to give her the books on just one condition that it would be passed on to other students once she completes her class,” says Basur.
One of his guests from Italy Alessandra Bianca L'Abate (Chandra) spent four months in Banvasi and participated in community learning, donations, and helping with expansion of the centre. Alessandra feels that responsible tourism or voluntourism needs lot of promotion. Tourism, if intended in a good way, can create wealth for the local community is her firm belief. "We also helped bring in volunteers for different activities. We are thinking of roping in clowns for performances which we hope will spread smiles among the children there," she says.
Alessandra, who herself has been supporting the weaving community in India, and is associated with NGOs that works towards improving the life of rural artisans.
*Art of the matter*
Alessandra also explains that many indigenous art and craft forms are seeing a slow death. “With some social activism spirit, we can spend some time looking for alternatives and different ways of supporting the art community. These can help in improving their livelihoods. At the same time, tourists will also understand the heritage of the place and can promote social development of the village,” she says.
Sometimes, during these voluntourism getaways, artistes of the local community also perform and hold workshops for the guests.
*Not always a social cause*
In the strictest sense, voluntourism is not restricted to social causes. Take the instance of Adventure Junkie that has been selling this concept for the last nine months. They organise adventure sports--scuba diving, surfing--- and even treks and ask for volunteers, familiar with these activities to pitch in and teach newbies. Suneeth SR, co-founder of Adventure Junkie, says, "Since scuba diving and surfing aren't well established in India, we look for certified trainers who can volunteer to help participants. We’re always on the
lookout for volunteers who can manage our participants on trips."
The profile of the participants, he tells us, are mostly IT professionals in the 24 to 28 years age group.
Currently, the company is in talks with wanderbrief, a Denmark-based firm that posts jobs that people can take up when they travel to different places. Suneeth says it will be finalised in a month officially. "This way our users can look up other programmes that they
can do while on a break. It could be programming, technical writing or any other freelance jobs. If you see the trend, we have several foreigners working from Hampi. The travellers just need to connect to the company via e-mails or video calls," he says, adding, “It’s a double bonus for many. It’s like you’re on holiday and making money. And sometimes, this can be an opportunity for those fed up of their IT jobs to get an idea of their other skill sets.”
Some places where you can voluntour in India
Andaman and Nicobar
Activities you can engage in