Voluntourism or volunteer tourism is a trend among the younger generation in the Sultanate of Oman. When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005 causing hundreds of fatalities and damages, a young Omani woman was part of a fund-raising activity to help those affected.
Kalthoom al Khamayasi came back impressed with the impact individuals can make in building or rebuilding societies and was more involved locally in such activities.
Kalthoom has now returned after a month-long voluntourism in Tanzania where she worked as an assistant teacher at a community school for poor kids.
An Economic Researcher at the Department of Agricultural Investment of Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Water Resources, Kalthoom also actively takes part in the ‘Save Oman Beaches’ weekly clean-up campaigns. She was part of the campaigns at the beaches of Al Sifah, Al Hail, Ras Al Hadd, Al Ashkhara, Masirah Island creating awareness among residents and tourists.
Qualified with MSc in Applied Economics from Aberdeen and a graduate in Natural Resources Economics from Sultan Qaboos University, she also was part of cultural exchange programmes hosted by international organisations like UN agencies and British Council cultural programmes.
Her Dar es Salaam trip saw her helping with English language classes for underprivileged teenage students unable to attend public schools and sports and crafts classes for nursery-age kids. She has earlier also volunteered in countries like the UK, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Germany, and Indonesia.
Kalthoom mentions Covid pandemic was one of the reasons for deciding to take on the volunteering experience and to overcome the built-up stress over the past two years.
She chose the East African country as this was one of the easiest to go to with minimum Covid restrictions. Volunteering opened her eyes to the outside world. Seeing ripped rubber sandals, students skipping restaurant meals, girls without access to sanitary pads or families living in windowless houses, some depending on seasonal farm products for income and breakfast, made her stop feeling sad about life.
During her trip, Kalthoom spoke to friends and sourced donations for the poor kids who really need every penny they could afford to.
She explains “The school students really wanted to learn. They had actual goals like becoming a chef or an employee at a specific company so they would come to school without being pushed or forced to. They are actually thankful for the chance to attend school even with a torn backpack or in most cases no backpack at all.”
Kalthoom found that a daily dose of inspiring chats with these kids reminds you to be thankful again for the life you have. “That just because you got bored or confused or lost purpose during lockdown does not mean the end of the world. Even though you hear and read about these problems, living it is a completely different mind-blowing lesson each day,” she adds.
About voluntourism, she says “Travelling with a purpose will open your eyes to a whole different world you are unaware of, not just to other countries outside my country’s borders but within you, your own personal capabilities which you were not even aware you had.”
During her trips she avoids doing the expensive trips but finds local hosts for free or cheaper hosting alternatives while getting a deeper experience of the local culture making one respect both their values and even more every time.
Also known for her adventure, she co-founded Jisser Internship Platform.
Kalthoom is of the view that tourism has its effect in stimulating local economies, as more people spend money in local shops, markets and restaurants. But adding ‘volunteer’ part to it ‘when done properly’ can help make an even more positive impact on local communities and projects. “Volunteering helps experience greater satisfaction with life purpose, increased self-confidence, and a greater sense of identity,” she adds.
Kalthoom is of the view that volunteering does not need to involve long-term commitment or involve a huge amount of time out of your busy day. “Giving in even simple ways can help those in need which helps improve health and happiness and can help those in need and improve your health and happiness.”
“This is where my input in terms and money, skills or knowledge are in the right place without taking away jobs from locals who could do the tasks I am doing ‘voluntarily’ and are paid for it. From my experience, it allows for a much deeper level of knowledge, cultural exchange and personal growth than simply sticking with a group of like-minded tourists without interaction with individuals living and building these communities,” she concludes.