In our preparatory class last semester, much of the literature we read focused on the conditions under which ‘voluntourism’ can be effective. There seemed to be a consensus in the research we reviewed that opportunities for developing ‘thick’ global citizenship, participating in equal cultural exchange, and doing meaningful work increase with the length of the trip. There also appeared to be significant evidence to support the theory that opportunities for doing harm can be reduced by extending the length of the experiential learning trip.
The length of the India Field School program is something I considered when deciding whether or not to take part in this trip. When thinking about this trip in abstraction, from my regular life back in Canada, one month in India seemed like a long time. I felt that compared to some of the very popular voluntourism trips that seek to entice participants by combining a week of work with many more weeks of tourism and adventure, this seemed like enough time to dive into a project and truly get involved in an organization.
This month has absolutely sped by. While I feel extremely comfortable and settled here in Dharamshala, I also feel as though I have been here for barely any time at all. At the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD), where I am placed, there is a very established internship program. Most of the interns work for periods of 2-6 months. When it comes down to it, though I am here for one month, I only spent just over two weeks actually working at my placement. The discrepancy between the time I spent at TCHRD and the time spent by other international interns led me to confront the notion of time constraints. What is their implication for doing good work? What is their implication for international voluntourism programs, and do my two short weeks at TCHRD truly differ from the status quo of these trips?
Despite the very real challenges presented by time constraints, I believe that my time here is different. After some careful reflection, I have come to realize that this is due to the fact that my placement was planned around a specific project. I was tasked with creating an educational booklet for human rights defenders in Tibet to inform them of their rights under international law, as well as options for recourse should their rights be violated. The project-based nature of my placement allowed me to use every minute of those two and a half weeks efficiently. I also never felt that my presence was a burden, as I had clear instructions and timelines from the outset and did not need much direction apart from this. This has led me to reflect on whether project based voluntourism programs might mitigate the negative effects of time constraints to which these trips often fall victim. Additionally, I have been thinking about how creating longer term connections can help volunteers overcome the barrier that time constraints pose to meaningful work. I plan to stay in touch with all the remarkable individuals I met at TCHRD. If possible, I plan to do some work remotely when I return home, and to continue disseminating the information they spread though my networks in Canada.