Documentary looks at volunteering vacations

Tsawwassen's Brad Quenville delves into "voluntourism"

Tsawwassen filmmaker Brad Quenville delves into "voluntourism" with his new documentary Volunteers Unleashed.

It has become a huge trend and has also grown into a controversial part of the travel sector, he said.

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The documentary, which follows volunteers to South America, Southeast Asia and Africa, is set to air Thursday night on CBC.

Critics say the practice displaces locals and the locations where you do voluntourism tend to be places where it isn't necessarily the area of greatest need, Quenville said.

The film was inspired by his daughter Jennica's experience volunteering in Tanzania in 2012. She also worked on the film as a researcher and field coordinator.

"The challenge was, here we are doing a fairly critical look at this industry, when it was something that was very meaningful to her," he said.

Having been there and done it, she provided access to situations that would've been very difficult to access without her there, Quenville said.

"The way that the voluntourism industry operates, is that it's trying to cater to the volunteer. It isn't necessarily catering to the needs of the local people as much as it's catering to the needs of the volunteer, making sure they've got a wonderful experience," he said.

The issues the film looks at paint a fairly dark picture at times but voluntourism is still something Quenville hopes people see as an interesting new alternative to typical ways of traveling like hanging out at the beach or backpacking.

"It's not a perfect solution but it's a great way for people to connect with other cultures in a way they may not have in the past," he said. "You're not just backpacking through, you're really integrating with the community, you really understand some of the issues and you're getting to know the people."

The broadcast premiere of Volunteers Unleashed on CBC TV's Doc Zone is scheduled for Thursday, March 19 at 9 p.m.

The project also has a Facebook page.

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