Aviva Sinervo, PhD* - University of California, Santa Cruz
In Cusco, Peru, the growing volunteer tourism industry is facilitated by Spanish language schools, allowing tourists to combine cultural and linguistic immersion and sight-seeing with humanitarian endeavors. Volunteer coordinators who run the schools' programs are often foreigners who straddle the category of tourist and ex-pat, as they usually stay for a longer period of a time than a typical tourist, but not indefinitely. Some are volunteers themselves—unpaid although perhaps provided with certain benefits such as accommodation—yet coordinators are key players in the growing economy of aid in Cusco. They are in charge of placing and managing volunteers, administering volunteer fees and determining the use of donations, and working with local projects and international sending agencies to enable the movement of people, dollars, and sentiments. Coordinators therefore are tasked with fulfilling a contradictory array of goals ranging from the happiness of their tourist clients, to the economic viability of their employer's business, to the charitable aims of their project beneficiaries. This paper considers the paradoxical aspects of volunteer tourism as experienced by coordinators in Cusco. Tacking between how volunteer coordinators are positioned by tourist participants, and how coordinators narrate their motives and methods, I argue that investigations of volunteer tourism need to take into account the perspectives of a range of actors that include not just tourists and the communities being targeted for aid, but also the facilitators of the encounter itself.