Volunteer tourism is a popular form of tourism where people participate in “charity work,” usually in developing countries. However, there are many issues with this form of volunteer work that essentially does more harm than good. Although these trips are planned in hopes of helping the people in the developing countries, it mostly just benefits those that are visiting.
On these trips, visitors will go to poverty-stricken communities to provide them with the help, but in turn it reinforces stereotypes around these developing countries. These trips tend to occur when people are vacationing or attending mission trips.
According to Dr. Samantha Nutt, Founder of Warchild USA, volunteer tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry. What does this say about the form of charity work itself? It says that the work done in developing countries is used to gain profit, which in turn contributes to capitalism.
I think that volunteer tourism fetishizes poverty-stricken communities in the sense that they are being showcased for profit. Some reports from developing countries have been accused of keeping communities in poverty so foreigners will keep spending money.
Often on social media, we will see people traveling to these countries and documenting their experiences with pictures and videos that are in that moment seen as being happy or sweet. Some think that through documenting their experiences, they are showing characteristics of compassion, charitability and affection. However, when ignoring the damage done to the people they are supposedly trying to help, it becomes just another way for these people to show off on social media.
Helping others in this way should not be done for popularity but to genuinely contribute to change.
According to Dr. Nutt, studies that were conducted by child psychologists in South Africa of orphaned children being repeatedly exposed to foreigners, show that these children will initially seem very happy upon initially meeting them because they are constantly forming bonds with people that in the end, leave and often never return.
Today, the industry of volunteer tourism is making an enormous profit from these trips and even provide incentives so that people will want to take them. Many charities and nonprofits do similar work that charge anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 for experiences like this. What purpose do these trips actually serve? They serve to fetishize and further contribute to stereotypes, rather than actually helping starving children like they advertise.
There is a lot that we can do as people besides volunteer tourism to help developing countries. This form of charity work, however, is not one of them. Developing countries need actual resources and opportunities to help poverty-stricken communities become self-sufficient.
Raising awareness, promoting education and encouraging systematic reform are ways to actually help developing countries. Raising awareness, whether or not that is via social media, can allow the issues that are inhabited in these countries to be seen globally. Promoting education can help children in developing countries to gain access to resources that they might not have otherwise. Encouraging systematic reform can help programs that are needed (such as education) to be rethought. We need to be conscious of the actions we take, and do more to help others around us in the most positive and supportive ways.
Finally, donating money to developing countries is better than doing often unskilled work for the purpose of an Instagram photo. These countries need to be invested in. Whenever you take a trip to these countries, shop locally. This way the money goes directly to these families and into their community, and will actually make a difference in their lives.