My new acquaintance has said it herself: on a voluntour assignment in Guatemala, the lady in the village asked her “why are you here in my village? Why don’t you tour in your own country? The lady sounded annoyed at the sight of the white girls and boys coming and going all the time.
Somebody needed to speak up.
Disruption, white-man’s saviour mentality, dependence, power imbalance – here are some of the clear downsides of voluntourism /a form of tourism or any type of service-mission with volunteer work in the developing countries.
As the gap of developing and developed countries widens, people from the developed world continue to flock the other side to see what poverty is and how they can help. With all the altruism in the world, it is not enough to be effective in the developing country context.
Think hard about your own purpose. Are you going there to tour or to do some serious messy development work? Giving 1-2 weeks of immersion with an RnR (Rest and Recreation) here and there, is a superficial encounter.
Is working in the orphanage, child care center, giving medical services, supporting wildlife centers, or constructing houses something that a community can do? Replacing a community member that is able, effective, efficient and cost-saving is not the best bang for the buck.
A foreigner with no cultural, linguistic competencies, or hard skills related to the job is a total recipe for disaster.
Why not donate your flight money to the community? There is no value of you being there. The money will go along way to securing that community services and programs are brought from the local supply chain, managed by locals themselves and provided by the locals themselves.
Pippa Diddle made a great point in her article to the Huff Post about little white girls, boys and volunteerism. This article is a little dated but well-articulated.
Admit it, it is more tourism and sight seeing that doing the proper work to make a difference in some one else’s life or community? Not even.
Let us not complicate matters by labelling something that is neither a real development effort or a real tourism engagement.
Hope you get the point? Let me know what you think?
If this article resonates with you, please share this with your colleagues and networks. You can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter to be the first to know of resources available for you.