The Changing Nature of Volunteering into Voluntourism Without a Proper Policy By Manoj Kumar Giri (Chairman, Alternative Volunteer)

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The Changing Nature of Volunteering into Voluntourism Without a Proper Policy
By Manoj Kumar Giri, Chairman, Alternative Volunteer



After the predominance of the Rana Regime in Nepal in the 1950s, the democratic Government introduced volunteering from Britain in Nepal so as to educate Nepali people which met with singular success including to the entire movement. A continuous influx of missionaries and peace-corps volunteers took root which is still in practice through various missionary organizations and the Peace Corps. During the Maoist Insurgency, this trend was significantly disturbed at the local level. When the conflict ended and the Maoist Government took power, a continuation of volunteering emerged. Necessary during the 60s, it is now a matter of critical evaluation whether it is needed or not in Nepal.


Volunteering in Nepal has its own particularities - it is connected with our culture, lifestyle and the nature of our social structures. People have supported those in need selflessly including during social and cultural events such as feasts, weddings and other traditional Hindu customs. However, external volunteering interventions in Nepal require a careful review of both purpose and impact on society. The nature of volunteering in Nepal has changed considerably during the last seventy years. Volunteers now come to Nepal via different avenues and status, namely, a) Missionaries or Peace Crops; b) INGOs; c) Ordinary.  These are characterized by differing motivations to access Nepal.

  1. Missionaries: Mission Volunteering is dedicated to a professed mission. Different tools are used to win community interest by volunteer doctors and community help.
  2. INGO supported: INGO-supported Volunteering also has different mandates in accordance with the INGO and as directed by the Government. Development work, data collection, research, Feasibility Studies, Cultural Exchanges and expert services are the major interests. Some are also known to interfere with Nepali politics indirectly. 
  3. Ordinary: The Ordinary type of volunteering is considered the best form of volunteering and this practice is known to exist for a long time in Nepal. This is real volunteering on the ground and is shaping the exact nature of volunteering in Nepal. It is also shaping Voluntourism in Nepal as well as the real contributors of Voluntourism.


A Volunteer Policy

The Nepal Government does not have an accurate foreign volunteering policy. The Government has now begun to recognize volunteering as WORK (with/out payment) which is not an ideal situation. Volunteering is, indeed, work but the aims are different from those that entail working for money. Many tourists want to volunteer in Nepal but the lack of a foreign volunteering policy in Nepal has meant that the current status is illegal as per the 1994 Immigration Law.


Volunteering Vs. Voluntourism

The precise nature of volunteering and voluntourism exhibit many differences. Due to the current practice of volunteering and the theoretical imbalance of the Volunteering Concept, the problem has not yet been resolved. For the Nepal Government, volunteering is a social service although, in practice, it is shown as cultural tourism. It is cultural tourism in terms of the volunteering interest and referenced by ordinary volunteering practices. Volunteers are coming to Nepal for cultural exchange and work with fun. The modification of volunteering is also being transferred into voluntourism gradually.



The key challenges lie in the legality of volunteering practices such as the Tourist Visa which is illegal in this system. Without proper and legal identification that classifies the practice as volunteering or as a part of tourism, corrupt NGOs such as some orphanages garner juicy profits from gullible foreign volunteers. Another challenge is the lack of due governmental recognition for the volunteer work and support.


A Possible Solution

The Nepal Government must initiate immediate action with regard to voluntourism and volunteering so as to effectively manage the work and support to the Nepali community. The Cultural Visa must be a priority which can be identified if we provide identification similar to the TIMS card for trekkers and recognized as the Volunteering Identification Card (VIC). This would help to improve the current revenue span.  Specification of volunteering categories, work and places must be conducted as well. Local bodies of the Nepal Government can function as regulators and evaluators of volunteer work. Finally, the main pivot remains in simplifying the Visa System for volunteers and volunteering.


Position: Writer


Volunteer without policy?!

About volunteering

So agree with you

So agree with you

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