A Vancouver Island University anthropology and global studies graduate is the first Canadian university student to take top prize in the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology’s Student Achievement Award.
Celia White, who graduated in June, took first place with her paper on volunteer tourism, entitled Questioning Voluntourism, and will receive a certificate and $300 in prize money.
The paper, based on a negative experience working as a volunteer tourist at a Costa Rican biological station for turtles, could be published in an academic journal.
“Often volunteer tourists travel to a community they think is marginalized or disenfranchised, inferior or under-developed,” White said. “They arrive in the host community believing that they are aiding or helping to develop the local people. In fact, volunteer tourists are usually unskilled, don’t speak the language and have no experience or education in what they are volunteering in.
“Their presence can disempower the local community and create a negative relationship where the local people’s insights, wisdom and experience aren’t valued. In reality, the local people’s knowledge and understanding of the complexities and history of their community are far greater.”
White concludes Questioning Voluntourism by encouraging prospective volunteer tourists to question volunteer tourism projects and to be aware of any detrimental aspects before taking part in them, although she does say volunteer tourism projects are beneficial if managed the right way and controlled by local people.
“My hope is to shed light on the often unseen or unquestioned aspects of volunteering abroad and to warn people to be more critical about signing up for projects. Really ask yourself if the project will be beneficial locally or internationally,” she said.
White will attend the association’s November meeting in Chicago to accept the award and mingle with other anthropologists from across the globe.
The paper was written for Vancouver Island University professor Lynette Harper two years ago.