Feature Photo and Photo Above courtesy of Tribe Wanted
Ever since I volunteered in Cambodia a little over a year ago I’ve had conversations with several people about “sustainable voluntourism,” and even as a supporter of voluntourism I can see flaws it in. The most frequent question I hear is, how can you make a real difference in such a short amount of time? And I have to say, they have a point.

So I’ve been searching. Searching for the type of organization that isn’t just going in and teaching English, but is going in and teaching skills to help the people be sustainable on their own, after we go home. Like the big debate on aid to foreign countries – if they learn to depend on us, what good are we really doing?

When the opportunity arose to speak with Filippo Bozotti of Tribe Wanted, I glanced at the website and thought it looked interesting, so I took on the interview. It’s funny how things like that work, because after I looked into the website a bit more, I realized this was just the organization I was looking for.

What exactly is Tribe Wanted?

Filippo: Tribe Wanted is an innovative tourism initiative in which tourists (tribe members) and people from the local community develop eco-tourism from scratch. They experience it together and learn from one another. In a nutshell it’s an online/offline platform and an eco-tourism/social tourism project.

The projects that Tribe Wanted work on take two years to even get off the ground, because they are committed to each community being sustainable financially before they get started. Filippo is working with a community of people in Sierra Leone, a country that has been rebuilding since the war ended in early 2002.

To play the other side of the fence, do people want tourists to come in and create this eco-tourist industry?

Filippo: Sierra Leone once had a flourishing tourism industry. The war destroyed everything, but now the tourism industry is rebuilding and it’s coming whether Tribe Wanted is involved or not. The people would rather it be an environmentally-friendly, sustainable economy that they can really own rather than big name hotels coming in and taking over.

Tribe Wanted is currently in two countries – the island of Vorovoro in Fiji, and on John Obey Beach in Sierra Leone. Since Fiji is already a tourist destination and Tribe Wanted has been there for awhile, most of the responsibilities involve maintaining practices and structures already in place, and repairing damage done from a recent hurricane.

The Sierra Leone project is starting from the ground up, and there is a lot of work to do.

What is a typical day like?

Filippo: The tribe members who come to Sierra Leone can do as much or as little as they like, but most get in at least a few hours of work each day and really enjoy the cultural interactions. There is little to no electricity, so days are determined by the rising and setting of the sun.

Usually there is a job before breakfast (fetching water or wood), breakfast around 8 a.m., and then the main work takes place from around 9 a.m.-noon before it gets too hot. The work includes building, working in the garden, tending to the animals. After working it’s time for lunch.

After lunch there is a break when many people choose to go on various excursions or explore the area. From 4-7 p.m. a little more work is done, and then it’s time for dinner. The only requirement of the tribe members is that they clean up after themselves after meals and during the day.

The best thing about Tribe Wanted is that it “grows organically” as Filippo told me. The organization brings in experts who teach the community members and bring materials, then leave to allow the community members to run the newly created project. Tribe members bring things with them to leave with the community and there is a lot of cultural learning taking place for both groups. Most people plan to go for a week or two and end up staying a month or longer.

Someday I plan to get to Sierra Leone, and currently the fee from Tribe Wanted is just $450/ £295 per week (in addition to airfare). It actually costs more than that to support one person for a week, but they want to encourage people to go help out and see that Sierra Leone is moving forward from it’s bloody past. The money pays for your 7 night stay, all of your food, and the rest is a donation towards the materials, the community members’ salaries, the local chief, and a bit to marketing.

It is free to join the online community, who actually has a voice in decisions such as voting in the community chief, so sign up and check it out at Tribewanted.com.

Community Connection:

Find local opportunities to help create a sustainable community by WWOF-ing (World Wide Opportunities on Local Farms).  Read our First Timers Guide to WWOF-ing to see if it’s right for you!