New documentary takes thoughtful look at volunteering abroad

Making a positive impact

Nearly two years ago, filmmaker Mark Denega rallied the volunteer abroad community around his project H.O.P.E. Was Here: A Volunteer Travel Documentary to win our Travel for Good Challenge. The film premiered online last Friday, August 15, after preorders sold out in just days. Now, the film is available to stream or download at
H.O.P.E. Was Here follows college students from Boston on their one-week goodwill trip to the slums of Lima, Peru in a story about the phenomenon of volunteer vacations, which have fast become both a hallmark and a point of controversy for today’s socially conscious generation. In their attempts to teach English and rehab developmentally disabled children, the students must confront the reality of their work and whether or not it’s creating positive change. Part observation and part reflection, H.O.P.E. Was Here asks the nuanced and difficult questions about what it means to help people.
“Before making this documentary, I knew nothing of international volunteering,” says Denega. “After filming these students before, during, and after their alternative spring break, and, especially after short-term trips have been scrutinized in mainstream media, I understand what an important and timely issue this is.” Denega hopes the film captures a common feeling among international volunteers: intense inner struggle with how, or if, we can actually help people who need it, particularly in the context of the
booming movement and industry of ‘voluntourism’.

“H.O.P.E. Was Here provides a real-time taste of one of these volunteer experiences, which may lead people to remember and reflect on their own trips,” adds Denega. “For those considering their first volunteer abroad experience, the film may make them more aware and responsible decisionmakers before they take the leap themselves.” As more and more young people volunteer abroad through schools, churches, and commercial volunteer programs, Denega hopes the documentary will ignite constructive, open dialogue among volunteers, program leaders, and other volunteer travel stakeholders about the value and
betterment of these trips.

To start getting real about volunteering abroad, watch H.O.P.E. Was Here at, and email the filmmaker at to bring a screening to the
volunteer program at your school, church, or other organization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *