The ethical implications of volunteer tourism in Nepal.

I wrote this literature reviews when I was in Nepal.

The ethical implications of volunteer tourism in Nepal

 Despite high foreign currency income flow into the country through remittance and tourism industry, Nepal remains as one of the poorest nation in the world; with up to 24.8% of the population below the poverty line in 2011 (UNICEF, 2013). Meanwhile, volunteer tourism as a subgenre of tourism has been increasingly popular among student communities due to the presumed positive impacts to the volunteers and host communities (McIntosh & Zahra, 2007). However, recently such presumed altruistic deeds have been called into question when many of the organizations are found to be unscrupulous, exploiting the poverty-ridden developing nations rather than contributes to community’s  development (Barrel, 2014). As such, this literature will explore the ethical implications of volunteer tourisms, specifically on volunteering in medical field and orphanages in Nepal.

Seabrook (2013) found that medical voluntourism tends to impede the development of functioning healthcare system by creating dependency on foreign medical aids in Nepal. Meanwhile, she also pointed out that very often the medical aids provided by the volunteer incongruent with the real needs of the community. Most of medical voluntourism only provides temporary medical relief services to the community and fails to address many long-term health issues that caused by the political and social structural inequalities in Nepal. She also claims that medical volunteers fail to provide medical follow-up due to its transient nature. In addition, Citrin (2011) also found that some villagers in northwest Nepal shown a stronger preference for medical services provided by foreign volunteers. As such, it is argued that the increasing presence of foreign medical volunteers potentially delegitimizes the public healthcare system in Nepal (Citrin, 2011).

According to a report released by Central Child Welfare Board of Nepal (Bhusal, 2013), orphanage voluntourism has been a lucrative business for the orphanages operators in Nepal. It is found that more than 11,000 children living in ‘orphanages’ (CCWB, as cited in Bhusal, 2013 ) but almost two-third of these children have at least one living parents (CCWB & Bambini, as cited in Bhusal, 2013). Often, these children are displaced from their families into children’s homes with the promise of better future for their children by the children’s home operator (Bhusal, 2013). However, it is the case that only one in ten children’s home has reached the Nepal’s minimum standards of operation (CCWB, as cited in Bhusal, 2013). It is found that some children’s homes are purposely left in dilapidated condition to engender sympathy and donations from the volunteers. Consequently, this creates a demand for children to be exploited and stationed in such homes (Bhusal, 2013). Besides, Richter and Norman (2010) explain that frequent brief episodic engagements between institutionalized children with volunteers adversely impacts on child development and institutional care. The intercultural exchange between the children and foreign volunteers might also reinforce the colonialist structures and mentalities in children by having extremely positive and stereotypical images of other countries (Voelkl, 2012)

Regrettably, volunteering tourism as a mean of developing local community and poverty alleviation are ineffective without proper regulations and standards (Barrel, 2014). Some volunteering organizations disregarded the local political system by not registering with appropriate departments due to the complexity of bureaucracy (Seabrook, 2013). This will further deteriorates the legitimacy of the organizations and counterproductive to the development of local community. Therefore, Wearing and Pointing (2006) invite the host communities to examine the possible ethical impacts of voluntourism on their communities. McGehee (2012) also urges the professionals to explore on the role of governance and policy in voluntourism to mitigate the negative impacts of voluntourism. Finally, Papi (2014) advocates the volunteers to question the impacts of their actions and behaviors on the host communities to ensure responsible and ethical voluntourism.
















Barrel, S. (2014). Voluntourism: Every little helps? National Geographic:

Traveller. Retrieved from

Bhusal, N. (2013). Nepal Orphanage Voluntourism. CCWB.R

Citrin, D. (2011), ‘Paul Farmer made Me do it’: A Qualitative Study of Short-

Term Medical Volunteer Work in Remote Nepal, University of Washington.

Ethirajan, A. (2013). Nepal seeks to attract more tourists from Asian nations.

BBC. Retrieved from

McGehee, N.G. (2012). Oppression, emancipation, and volunteer tourism. Annals

of Tourism Research, 39 (1), 84-107.

McIntosh, A.,& Zahra, A. (2007). A Cultural Encounter through Volunteer

Tourism: Towards the Ideals of Sustainable Tourism? Journal of Sustainable Tourism,15(5), 543.

Papi, D. (2014). Is “Voluntourism” Itself Being Exploited? The Huffington Post.

Retrieved from

Richter, L. M., & Norman, A. (2010). AIDS orphan tourism: A threat to young

children in residential care. Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies, 5(3), 217- 229 DOI: 10.1080/17450128.2010.487124

Seabrook, D.(2013). Voluntourism in Nepal: The Ethical Implications of Visiting

Medical Aid Groups. University of Washington. Retrieved from

UNICEF. (2013). Statistics. Retrieved from

Voelkl, H.T.(2012). The Experience of Children with International Volunteer

Tourist: a case study in an orphanage in Ghana. The VolunTourist Newsletter. Retrieved from

Wearing, S., & Ponting, J. (2006). Reply to Jim Butcher’s response (Vol. 14 No.

3) to ‘Building a decommodified research paradigm in tourism: the contribution of NGOs, (Vol. 13, No. 5). Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 14(5), 512-515.


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