Boomer women and voluntourism

The voluntourism trend continues to thrive, and it seems baby boomer women are particularly drawn to this form of travel. Daniel Almond finds out why.


REPORTER: In recent years, the Australian travel industry has seen the emergence of what is commonly known as ‘voluntourism’ – a trend that sees globetrotters mix their love for international travel with different types of charity projects.

As this trend has developed over the years, the travel industry has noticed a specific interest amongst Australian women, particularly those within the baby boomer generation – whom flock to international destinations to volunteer their time and money in hope of aiding a global cause.

Andrea Jacobs, a baby boomer from Sydney’s North Shore recently participated in a project aimed at helping Indonesia’s captive orangutans and she believes it’ s important for Australian women to look for fulfillment outside of their daily lives. .

ANDREA JACOBS: “Again it comes back to the kids are off your hands, a lot of women maybe aren’t working anymore; women are looking for something perhaps to fill their lives And wanting to give back! I think that’s a big thing!”

REPORTER: Working in conjunction with ‘Jackie’s friends,’ – a not-for profit animal welfare project, Andrea and a group of Australian women spent a week in the famous Bali Zoo, helping to build a better enclosure for the orangutans.

ANDREA JACOBS: “It was interesting we arrived there on a Monday- I was a day late and I walked into the enclosure and I stood there and looked around and I thought ‘what in the flipping hell have I gotten myself into! It was a mess – people everywhere it seemed really disorganized and I stood there and thought – we only had a week to do it – I just really thought what in the hell am I doing here this isn’t going to happen. But I got stuck into it, it was the loveliest group of women, there was no ego involved and we all got the job done in the end!”

REPORTER: As ‘voluntourism’ continues to grow, so too do the number of organisations catering for this type of travel.

Alexandra Marr, strategic partnerships manager for Habitat for Humanity, a multi-national not for profit organisation that works to reduce world poverty attributes the growth of this trend to the lifestyle changes that accompany some women as they develop through their middle and early elder years.

ALEXANDRA MARR: “Well what we’ve seen from baby boomers and empty nesters is its their opportunity to then go and see the world. For that Nepal build that I mentioned we had some women tell some amazing stories; so we had a few significant birthdays celebrated while on the build; a few people that had just retired and wanted to go and have a holiday that was off the tourist track and a lot people use these builds to pay gratitude to the lives that they’ve lived.”

REPORTER: Although ‘voluntourism’ has seen members from each gender venture into impoverished regions, Marr believes it is Australian women’s interest in helping their less fortunate counterparts – that drives the rising number of females enrolling in these programs.

ALEXANDRA MARR: “But I think Australian women particularly are very interested to help support women overseas. We all know that if you help women or girls then the impact stretches far beyond the family and far beyond the community – we know that if you educate girls then their outcomes are so much better and more resilient for the future.”

REPORTER: Although many female boomers are using their post-retirement freedom to travel the world, ‘voluntourism’ isn’t only limited to those who are free from work or other commitments.

Julie Schoneveld, a CEO of a successful Australian marketing company has done projects all throughout South East Asia, utilizing her corporate skills to aid the impoverished people of the area along the way.

JULIE SCHONEVELD: “I have a marketing background and you know you learn many skills in marketing and one of the main- I guess a few of the skills are organisational skills; so hence when I was in Cambodia and organising the logistics of setting up a medical team in remote areas my organisational skills became very in demand in that situation and also you need to be able to envision what its going to be and you also need to cover off the detail in those situations so everyday in my job I’m doing that for clients on projects. And also making sure that the key people are working in the key positions within that set-up.”

REPORTER: Julie, who divides a lot of her time between the office and volunteer projects around the world, believes the essence of ‘voluntourism’ lies in the legacies that are created.

JULIE SCHONEVELD: “Yes I agree it does make yourself feel good about helping other people and that is part of it and you cant deny that or ignore that but in particular for me the projects that I worked on for example the one in EL Salvador we left a business there – we set up a business which has got longevity and today I know that they still- you know- are making money and you know potting their plants to re-stock the nursery so they’ve got more stock to sell and I know they’re still doing that today – so to me that’s leaving, I guess, my stamp. “


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