You may not be even familiar with the term, but Darjeeling and its adjoining hills are already basking in the success of ‘voluntourism’.
So, what the expression ‘voluntourism’ mean? Simply put, it’s tourism and voluntary work for charity combined. Travellers are encouraged to visit an area that is underdeveloped and participate in development of the place. For instance, building a school or even teaching kids of the locality for some time. Tourism data reveals that even in this off-peak season, the rural areas of Darjeeling hills have an occupancy of 30 per cent which is much higher than in the previous years.
Like ecotourism and adventure tourism, ‘voluntourism could involve tourist groups or just individual travelers. “It is basically resource exchange. The foreign tourists help in uplift of society, teach new things and even help develop infrastructure by building schools, thereby empowering the community.
The voluntourists in turn benefit by knowing more about the environment, biodiversity, different cultures and how people manage to live happily despite economic problems,” said Raj Basu, one of the founders of Help Tourism, that is jointly working with Growing Through Education Foundation (GTEF) in the voluntourism sector for the past one decade. For the past six years, volunteers from the foundation have been coming to Darjeeling and helping set up schools in the region.
The GTEF, a non-profit organisation, aims to provide financial and practical assistance to schools and school communities with specific development needs. The outfit is looking to raise sufficient yearly funding to directly support schools through teacher training and improving educational infrastructure.
The Australia-based foundation recently brought in volunteers to Darjeeling as voluntourists. The foundation has different fund-raising programmes including ‘Buy a Brick’ whereby a donor buys brick for $100 a piece to help build schools. Already, tourists and volunteers have built a volleyball court and a fence around the Chukhim Primary School in Kalimpong.
“This is tourism with a purpose. We thank Help Tourism and GTEF for having chosen our area as their area of activity,” said Pemba Tshering, member of the Gorkha Territorial Administration.