A memoir about voluntourism - the act of volunteering overseas to help poor or developing countries.
In the new world of branded social consciousness and sustainability, the combining of travel and volunteering has been elevated to scripture amongst the enlightened. Adelaide woman Sally Hetherington was one of these believers when she first travelled to Cambodia in 2009.
She was so taken with what she saw there that she returned in 2011 and ended up staying for five years. In those five years she assisted a local organisation called Human and Hope Association, building it up as Operations Manager, before leaving it in the capable hands of Siem Reap locals. In metaphoric terms, she went from giving them a fish, to teaching them to fish.
This experience has shaped her understanding of the growing industry of Voluntourism. In this book she unpacks the premises, misunderstandings and delusions upon which the industry is based, without dismissing the humane drive behind much participation in this form of travel.
It’s Not About Me is Hetherington’s memoir of her work with Human and Hope, as well as an examination of voluntourism both in Cambodia and more generally. She is clearly an intelligent, passionate and compassionate woman, and has an important message. However, the book itself is a poor read.
Neither straight memoir, nor a solid work of research, it never quite knows what it’s doing. Her writing style is personable enough, but fails to engage, certainly not at the level a book of this size should. She is far too chatty, asking facile rhetorical questions to the reader, interspersed with over-long slabs of “this happened, and then this and then this.” Overall, the work has a clunkiness about it that bespeaks poor editing. This really was a good feature article that got stretched into a very ordinary book.
None of this, of course, detracts from Hetherington’s great work, nor her message. This is certainly a book that should be dipped into by any aspiring voluntourists. As the title says, voluntourism should be about what is good for the region you are visiting, not what is good for you or your Instagram account!
You can read more about the Human and Hope Association, and make a donation here.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by: Elephant House Press
Released: May 2019