Is it a good idea to recruit (in N America and Europe) for sustainable living apprenticeships in Peru?

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Posted Mar 1 2016 by Dave Darby of

We’ve just been approached by someone running ‘sustainable living apprenticeships’ in Peru, asking if there’s anywhere to promote them on our site. This sort of thing happens all the time, by the way – yoga retreats in India, conferences in Malaysia, meditation on Greek islands etc.

I replied and explained that we’re a UK-based organisation, and therefore we’d be encouraging people to take long-haul flights (probably quite a few) to take up the apprenticeships, and that’s not very sustainable, is it? Not only would it involve pumping carbon and toxins into the high atmosphere, but it would also enrich the corporate oil and airline industries.

A reply came back explaining that ‘it may seem unsustainable’ (it does), but there are a lot of UK travellers in Peru, as well as from other countries, and that people take the things they learn on the apprenticeships back to their own countries. My question is, why can’t they learn those things in their own countries too? There are plenty of people offering courses in sustainability topics in the overdeveloped world.

I explained that we’re just launching Low-impact Australia, but a) it’s for Australians, and b) Dani and Sam who are launching it volunteered with us in the UK and travelled back to Australia overland, taking over six months to do so – all via public transport or hitch-hiking. Travelling broadens the mind and brings people into contact with different cultures – good things – but why not take time out to do it, overland? It can be done – even across oceans. A life spent taking city breaks and long-haul holidays is self-indulgent and extremely environmentally-damaging.

If we’d agreed to promote the apprenticeships from the UK, I know that we’d be helping to encourage long-haul flights, and I absolutely don’t want to do that. I think that people who understand what’s happening to the biosphere (and surely that should include people running ‘sustainable living apprenticeships’) should avoid flying themselves, and certainly not start projects that require people to fly half way around the world.

I suggest that people running sustainability projects abroad learn the language and aim the project at the locals, or if the locals don’t have the money to pay for their services, then either raise funds to provide it to them for free, or return home and work with people who then don’t have to fly to attend. In this case, the fee for a one-month course is $1000 – twice the average monthly income for a Peruvian, but as they’re in Peru, where the cost of living is much lower, I’m not sure why they would need to bring in that much money.

Better still, projects in poor countries that help people live in a sustainable, non-corporate way should be run by locals and for locals. The role of Americans or Europeans could be to raise funds, but not to set up in those countries themselves, and definitely not to serve other Americans and Europeans, who have to fly there to take part.

Or am I missing something?