Volunteer tourism (‘voluntourism’) packages development and poverty as culturally exotic and ethical experiences for tourists from industrialized countries. Among the various sectors promoting voluntourism, university sector short term study abroad tours network voluntourism agencies, local actors (e.g., NGOs), universities, and government funding to offer students ‘life changing’ community sustainable development experiences. Alongside the purported benefits for all stakeholders, recent criticism points to the commodification of development and poverty through such tours and multiple pernicious effects of such travel, especially the failure to deliver community impact. Given the significant financial, political, and other interests involved, monitoring and evaluating such initiatives against transparent independent sustainability principles has proved complicated. Case studies employing ethical covert research, fieldwork, and secondary data analysis offer one approach. This case study of a purported sustainable housing project in rural Maharashtra, involving a bilateral university-government-local NGO voluntourism ecosystem lead by an Australian Green NGO (AGC) analyses the multiple gaps between participatory community sustainable development and voluntourism. This case study employs content analysis of project reports, visual data from a field visit, recent village documentary analysis, anonymized email communication, and secondary analysis of contextual data to evaluate the claims of participatory sustainable development and project outcomes of a bilateral NGO voluntourism housing project. The study findings signal lack of financial transparency, incompetent assessment of material needs, limited local participation and control, and failure to deliver on objectives. The conclusion recommends that socially responsible short-term international exchanges should be carefully monitored and exchanges should prefer knowledge exchange.
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