TL;DR – Who are you helping really?
I’m sure you have seen the numerous pictures on the Internet, on your Facebook timeline and you might have even dabbled in such expeditions during your school years. Heading to Cambodia to build a school? To a remote village in Indonesia to volunteer at a orphanage or even to somewhere more far-flung, in Africa perhaps, to reach and help the community there.
While I don’t deny that the intent may be genuine, have you considered that with our (lack of) skills, we are actually bringing them more trouble than help?
Not just the physical aspects of having to fix our “contributions”, there are also emotional well-being of the host communities that we need to consider as well.
In this video by NowThis News, Samantha Nutt, an award-winning humanitarian and Founder of War Child Canada and War Child USA, explains more.
In a nutshell, “voluntourism trips” are largely designed to benefit the visitors rather than the host communities and more often than not, they are simply making a spectacle out of poverty and reinforcing outdated stereotypes about developing countries.
In fact, conditions are sometimes deliberately being kept squalid so that visitors will feel compelled to give more.
Think about it? The very children you think you’re helping are actually being denied opportunities and better living conditions just so that they can cater to your visits.
Not just that, on many volunteer websites and social media pages, you’ll see photos and videos of volunteers and happy kids – often accompanied with testimonials about how they have helped these children – but here’s what you don’t see:-
Studies by child psychologists have shown that orphaned children who have been exposed to a revolving door of foreigners might be hyper-affectionate because they are constantly forming bonds with outsides who inevitably abandon them.
It is normal for young children to be fearful of strangers. It is not normal for them to cling on to you the moment you say hello.
At the end of the day, as much as you think you’re helping these communities, you are perhaps actually doing them more harm than good.
If you truly want to help, what you can do is to believe in them, invest in them, in their capacity, in their competency. What they want, need, and deserve, are the tools, resources and opportunities to learn and do that work themselves.
Perhaps you should think about donating some of what you might have spent on that voluntourism trip – rather than to go there and build a wall with your unskilled labour, only to have them tear it down and rebuild it again properly.