Engagement. Most likely when you hear this word you think of two blissful people who have announced to the world their intentions to marry! However, there is another meaning to this word that applies to several other situations, in particular the traveling volunteer.

According to academic literature, engagement may be understood to mean the experience of “concentration” (Shernoff & Vandell, 2007, p. 891) or “flow” in projects/tasks with an authentic outside focus through the process of collaboration (Alexander & Bakir, 2011). Simply said, engagement within the traveling to volunteer context may mean individual or community connection to other volunteers, community members, or sending organisational representatives through some kind of meaningful action. Meaningful actions can include, for example, learning activities that have an outside-the-classroom application appealing to a broad range of student personalities. For the traveling volunteer, this can mean how various participants (volunteers, community members, and the sending organisation) benefit from skilled volunteer-to-program matching. However, what does engagement look like?

Through a recent research study in Moshi, Tanzania, it was found that themes of connection, communication, and hope are important for volunteer, community member, or sending organisation engagement. Feeling connected may be the result of having  support of others, the development of lasting relationships, or a mutual investment in project member learning. It might also appear as feeling a sense of community energised through group cohesion based on a common cause or goal.

In terms of how communication may play a part in assuring individual or community member engagement, an individual’s personality, the process of collaboration between project members, and having an understanding of local cultural norms, seem to have key roles. Hope, may be understood to mean “an individual’s self-belief in their ability to achieve important goals (Snyder, Harris, Anderson…, & Harney, 1991). In more layman’s terms, hope is an underlying force that drives individuals to seek ways to meet goals they have to better themselves or a community at large.

At The Traveling Volunteer we believe volunteer, community, and sending organisation engagement is important for a healthy sustainable community development project. Is it possible to be engaged with the people/volunteer program before you travel to volunteer? What about during? How about after? When one thinks about it, does it really matter if individuals or communities are engaged at all? Check out Brigitta Balogh’s recent story Hope Through Community Engagement, she definitely believes volunteering leads to community engagement! Within this website, we aim to concretely apply the connection, communication, and hope elements of engagement.

Alexander, Z., & Bakir, A. (2011). Understanding voluntourism: A Glaserian grounded theory study. In A.M. Benson (Ed.), Volunteer Tourism: Theory Framework to Practical Applications (pp. 9–29). Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Shernoff, D. J., & Vandell, D. L. (2007). Engagement in after-school program activities: Quality of experience from the perspective of participants. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 36(7), 891-903.

Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., … & Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology60(4), 570.