Laasya Poola’s passion for ‘volun-tourism’

After a service trip to the Dominican Republic, senior Laasya Poola yearned to learn more about sustainable volunteering and what can be done to engage in ethical volun-tourism. Volun-tourism combines tourism and helping local people through volunteering.


Poola (second from right) volunteering with locals in the Dominican Republic in 2017. “The purpose [of volunteering] is not to go there and take pictures with the kids or to feel like you’re better than them in some sort of way,” Poola said. “You really want to break down that Western savior complex and go in to change your own perspective and mind.”

Chloe Chan and Laaiba Mahmood

During her first service trip in the Dominican Republic, senior Laasya Poola bought a bracelet from a pregnant woman in a local market who expressed that she was desperate for money to raise her child. On the way home, after giving the woman $20, Poola asked the trip mentors what exactly happened.

“They told me that she’s been pregnant for six years, which is not how pregnancy works,” Poola said. “It’s basically a whole marketing scheme to get volunteers to buy their bracelets. They created this whole second-hand economy where they get volunteer revenue, but they never want to actually progress or build new projects because they want volunteers to come.”

Poola was shocked by what her mentors told her, which ultimately inspired her to learn more about the situation and what she could do to help.

“I thought it was crazy how that could be mistaken and could actually hurt the community from growing, so I wanted to see how we could prevent this,” Poola said.

She found the chance to do so through the Illinois Global Scholar program, which includes a research capstone component.

Humanities Capstone is a class offered at Naperville Central that allows students to research a globally focused topic of their choice. The Illinois Global Scholar program goes hand in hand with this class. Students who take this capstone are eligible to be certified as an Illinois Global Scholar given they meet certain requirements, one of which being that students must take action to affect change for their studied topic.

Humanities teacher Seth Brady, who helped in bringing the Humanities Capstone and IGS to Central, thinks that this program is very beneficial for students.

“I think that a student that goes through this process does get transformed on some level,” Brady said. “It gives students a sense of their own self, their own power, a sense of greater autonomy and feeling more like an adult since they’re interacting with people in an authentic environment with high level individuals in their fields. It shows students how one person can do something that is really quite significant.”

With this opportunity, Poola spent a semester researching sustainable foreign aid structures and how they could be applied to Haiti, where she has also gone on a service trip.

“My whole project was about how to give foreign aid, or how should service organizations be structured in a way that prevents a dependence being created through the two countries,” Poola said.

Through her research, Poola determined a multi-step solution for achieving a service organization that brings the most benefit to volunteers and the communities that they are helping.

”I found three big mistakes that a lot of service organizations make,” Poola said. “With a lot of conversations with different organizations, I came up with a five factor solution to it.”

The five factors Poola came up with were education, transparency, community involvement, sustainability, and consistent evaluating of the project.

Ultimately, Poola applied what she learned over the course of the semester by developing a website that ranks service organizations. There are currently three organizations that make trips to Haiti that she has logged on the website, but she aims to include more.

“What I did was create a website that explains the five factors that make a really good service organization,” Poola said. “I try, when I interview [organizations], to not openly tell them that I’m ranking them, because I don’t want them to skew what they say. At the end of the interview, I ask them if it’s okay for me to blog about the information. If they want to see it, I’ll send it to them.”

Poola was given the opportunity to present her website and research at a global conference, Empower 19, held by the The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) in Chicago. Brady was invited to bring students to this conference, which is how Poola got involved.

“Someone I know who leads up ASCD’s global competency division approached me and asked if I wanted to be on a panel, however, when people hear from students what students do it’s much more powerful and they really steal the show,” Brady said. “So she asked if I could assemble a panel of people, so I chose Laasya and a few other students. They each gave a seven-minute flash talk about what they did and what their project meant to them.”

Outside of her capstone work, Poola is involved in DECA and Senior Class Council. She plans to study economics and math at University of Chicago in the fall.  

“It was really fun to have Laasya,” Brady said. “I had her in World Cultures freshman year and have been able to see her development as a student and as a person who came into her own. She’s a really self-confident young woman.”