I have grown increasingly sceptical of the motives behind overpriced, short-term volunteer placements, commonly penned as the term “voluntourism” and its true involvement in impoverished communities.
By day, teams of European students construct medical centers, by nightfall these bricks are replaced by trained African builders. Paul Theroux’ the renowned travel author, witnessed aid workers driving one-handed on their cell phones, roaring through blighted communities in white expensive land rovers, as ‘arguably the happiest people in Africa’. It’s the $2 billion dollar question that runs through everyone’s mind when an unqualified friend on social media is fundraising to teach for two weeks at a Kenyan school: is this doing more harm than good? The answer is simply: voluntourism is catastrophic.
Short-term voluntourism is arguably the most detrimental to a foreign organisation. For example, the relationships and connections that are established with children in orphanages in just two weeks can cause more harm to a young child who’s already brought up with a sense of abandonment when a volunteer goes home. It also ignores the important fact that settling into a different culture may take some time to adjust. The problems of barging into a community Real volunteering requires a long-term commitment, in order to establish a sense of meaningfulness in any poor community-
Many overseas orphanages that are heavily involved in Voluntourism rarely complete background checks on their volunteers, which leave vulnerable children at risk of abuse. There’s an ever seedier story behind larger institutions ”built to maximise profits and reduce costs”, that charge Westerners through-the-roof prices for few days toying with children before hastily throwing them back to their owners . Some empty Cambodian orphanages ‘rent’ local children from willing parents to keep profits flowing from tourists. Although this may be the darkest side of voluntourism, surely broken homes and higher risk of abuse is something that should be avoided at all times, especially if it’s something that can be avoided and it begins with a bit of internet research.
Although the rising voluntourism trend has given a vast amount of middle-class people a glimpse in the face of real poverty, giving the opportunity to appreciate the true value of their own society, where food is abundant and freedom of choice is taken for granted. To understand the plight of others can raise awareness in other countries, but isn’t this becoming mildly colonialism? I spent three months in Tanzania, although with a genuine charity, I was still embedded in narcissism and as soon as I was reconnected with the basic western necessity of Wi-Fi I found myself Instagramming a photo of myself, standing tall like a missionary with pristine clothes surrounded by bedraggled children in rags. It seems to be a culture amongst volunteers, which is voyeuristic for no other reason than their ‘otherness’. The white savior complex can surprisingly be incredibly damaging to a community whose only way of alleviating themselves from poverty is to keep bowing down to these almighty pale figures. People need a community role model, a mentor that they can associate with at a local level.