The word ‰ecotourism‰ is thrown around a lot in this day and age. Companies tend to focus on helping their customers get a ‰volunteer experience‰ but they don‰’t really delve deep into the problems in the areas they work in. The projects are short-lived, and only exist as long as the tourists are in the area. These projects then get abandoned; the tourists get to see the culture but don‰’t really experience it. It doesn‰’t have that same affect as when you get to meet new people and get that chance for cultural exchange.

Unfortunately, sometimes people think that all companies that offer volunteering do this, and it is worrying that all companies get tarred with the same brush. However, this is where Camps International really stands out. I thought I‰’d write a blog to address the worry some volunteers have about what happens after they leave our camps, and also in a response to the recent article written by the Guardian. (Have a read if you haven‰Ûªt already: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/11/ecotourism-amazon-shortchanges-locals-ecuador?CMP=share_btn_link)

For those of you who don‰’t know much about Camps International, we operate out of rural communities throughout South East Asia, South America and East Africa. Each of our locations operate several permanent camps that volunteers travel around throughout their expedition.

The important part of this is the permanent camps; we only operate out of locations we are established in. There is a huge difference when working with a community that welcomes a company, and one that doesn‰’t even know that tourists are visiting the area. We operate right at the heart of the cause, and dedicate ourselves to each and every camp, as well as our local employees and the surrounding community.

One of things that I personally love about Camps International is the amazing chance it gives for cultural exchange. That level of interaction can influence both volunteers and the community; it gives both the ideal chance to experience a completely different culture. It helps people to learn and grow. Not only do you get to interact with members of the community whilst working on projects, but also in day-to-day life in our camps. We employ most of our in-country staff from around the local area, creating and providing jobs for members of the community that would otherwise be without.

Another really important thing is that all of our projects are long term and sustainable, and they focus on benefiting the local communities, not our volunteers. Before starting a project we ask the local community what they think would best benefit them. If something happens in the community, then we reassess the focus of our project work to make sure it is what would most help the community at that time. We focus our projects on a few main areas: healthcare, sanitation & housing, conserving biodiversity, ecosystems & landscapes, education projects, water projects and last, but certainly not least, sustainable livelihoods.

When volunteers join in with projects they may be joining in at any stage, they may see the beginning, middle or end of a project but never all three! So it can be difficult to imagine the real beginning of our projects, or even what they look like once they have finished. This is why we write our blogs and keep updating on social media, so that we can keep our lovely volunteers updated with the progress of our projects!

Once volunteers leave a particular project, other volunteers will then support that project until it is finished, and sometimes even after it is finished. We never really stop working on a particular project once it is finished.  One of my roles in the office is to co-ordinate our project reports, and one thing I notice from every continent, is that once a project is finished we then keep contributing to it and checking in with the locals to see if there is anything else that we can be doing to help this particular project. Other projects will be noted down with a status of ‰continuous‰ or ‰rolling‰, meaning that we never stop working on improving them. One of the projects that will always be continuous in our eyes is anything to do with environmental conservation and reforestation.

I thought I would finish this blog with a quote from one of our previous travellers, Ashley Minshull, who recently wrote a guide to volunteering abroad.

‰ÛÏWhen I was in sixth form I spent a month in Borneo as a volunteer on construction projects to install a water tank to supply 200 people in a remote village with clean water and provide a community centre for the children. I planned my trip with ‰Camps International‰ and it was an amazing opportunity that allowed me to learn so much about the local culture and allowed me to see that the work they are doing out there is making a real difference. Working with ‰Camps International‰ was an amazing way to get involved in developing projects and continue the work started by previous groups, in the heart of a deprived community. It was obvious that the community we were working in welcomed ‰Camps international‰’s‰ presence and the difference they are making is extraordinary.‰

Read the rest of Ashley‰’s article here: http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/travel/2015/03/11/guide-to-volunteering-abroad/

For more information on our projects and how you can help, please contact us at: projects@campsfoundation.org.