During the Undergraduate Research Symposium, undergraduate Media & Communication Studies student Brendan Rempert presented his poster, Community Perspective on the Impact of Voluntourism in Pamohi Village.
With the help of faculty advisor Dr. Steve McDowell, Brendan took a critical look at international development volunteers. Known as “voluntourism,” the impact of seasonal volunteers is often assumed rather than researched.
“Mr. Rempert has tackled an interesting and important dimension of international social connections,” said Dr. Steve McDowell. “As he notes, there are tremendous potential benefits for both sets of parties if these visits and volunteer work can be organized clearly and usefully. I’m very glad he addressing this and look forward to discussing what he finds in his work this summer.”
His analysis revealed a mix of attitudes towards voluntourism:
Negative aspects include lack of background checks, resulting in poor skill compatibility and lack of effectiveness. Others speculated that the money used to fly out volunteers would be better used directly in the community. The presence of volunteers can throw off the local economy, shutting down local markets and creating a dependency on volunteers.
Positive assessment of voluntourism includes the spread and inspiration of social activism, increased manpower in communities, added financial support for projects and improvement of facilities. In his research, he summarized, “When short term volunteer opportunities are well organized, tourists can use their limited spare time and respective skills to create positive sustainable change.”
This summer, he plans to travel to the Pamohi Village in India. Brendan will work with the teachers and staff at Parijat Academy, urging a critical look at the relationship between the Academy and international volunteers, through questions such as: “What are the benefits?” “Where can we improve to maximize the positive impact of this exchange?” “Are there any past instances where even good intentions have led to negative consequences?”
“Research has been the ultimate opportunity to pursue my own interests in great depth outside of the classroom,” Brendan shared. “I like to think of it as a snowball effect, the more in depth you research, the more curious you become, and the questions grow.”
Brendan will be working with the Parijat Academy from May 10 – June 12. After the stay, he plans to backpack around India for his final month. Brendan hopes the backpacking will give him multiple perspectives of the diverse country.