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The Dangers of Voluntourism

Generally, voluntourism is done with good intentions, but unfortunately, good intentions don’t always have good impacts.

Photo by Pixabay

What is Voluntourism?

“A type of vacation in which you work as a volunteer . . . to help people in the places you visit.” —Cambridge Dictionary

Oftentimes when people think of voluntourism, they think of high schoolers or college kids going abroad to help build houses or dig wells. Historically, it was often projects organized by things like the YMCA or the Rotary Club, but there are countless kinds of projects organized by hundreds of organizations in more recent times. Generally, voluntourism is done with good intentions, but unfortunately, good intentions don’t always have good impacts.

What’s the Actual Impact?

  • Short-Term Solutions: These projects often are not meant to be long-term aid, instead functioning as short-term “bandage.” 
  • Religious Colonialism: Frequently, these projects are organized/done through religious organizations, and they ring of imperialism and colonialism. One cannot ignore the history of major religious organizations sweeping into an area promising help and aid . . . if the locals convert to that religion and allow themselves to be colonized, of course. It’s one thing if religion isn’t a factor in the aid, but it often is, even if not officially. 
  • Unskilled Help: The result of unskilled workers going to do projects that require skilled labor can often result in poor quality results, frequently hurting more than helping in the long run. 
  • White Saviorism: This refers to a social pattern of white people doing things that allow them to “rescue” people in marginalized communities, whether or not they’re providing any help at all. Voluntourism allows volunteers to feel good about themselves while often worsening their opinions of locals in the process by reinforcing harmful stereotypes, all while not actually helping especially in the long run. 
  • Exploitation: The projects often force local communities to become reliant on the aid being provided, making it harder for them to be self-sufficient. 

What Can We Do?

Now, not all voluntourism projects cause this sort of harm or all cause harm in the same way or degree. Sometimes what’s needed is just sheer unskilled labor, such as in cases like natural disasters when cleanup is too much for just the full-time nonprofit workers. Just be wary before joining a project—do your research, look for potential issues the project could cause, and do your best to not be the problem.

But if you’re wanting to help but don’t have the time, ability, or desire go out and do the work yourself, that’s okay! There’s loads of good places to donate to in various ways, or places to support, or ways to help educate people (including yourself.) After all, disaster, poverty, medically neglected areas—all of these things are continual scourges on humanity. So if you’re looking for ways to get involved, consider looking into and supporting some of the many reputable organizations that work to provide aid all around the world.

“Who Are We”

  • Americares: “When people are in crisis, we make sure that health comes first. Our Emergency Programs help communities prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. We support Medicine Security for millions of people around the world. Our Health Services deliver quality health care for people who have none. We create and support sustainable programs that strengthen local health centers.” 
  • Direct Relief: “A humanitarian organization with . . . a mission to improve the health and lives of people affected by poverty or emergencies—without regard to politics, religion, or ability to pay.” 
  • Give Directly: “A nonprofit that lets donors like you send money directly to the world’s poorest households. In doing so, we aim to accelerate the end of extreme poverty globally.” 
  • Global Giving: “A nonprofit that supports other nonprofits by connecting them to donors and companies. Since 2002, we've helped trusted, community-led organizations . . . access the tools, training, and support they need to make our world a better place.” 
  • International Aid Transparency Initiative: “A global initiative to improve the transparency of development and humanitarian resources and their results for addressing poverty and crises.” 
  • International Rescue Committee: “The IRC works in more than 50 countries and 28 U.S. cities to help people affected by humanitarian crises to survive, recover, and rebuild their lives.” 
  • Map International: “A global health organization bringing lifesaving medicine and health supplies to people all over the world.” 
  • Red Cross: “Volunteers and staff work to deliver vital services—from providing relief and support to those in crisis, to helping you be prepared to respond in emergencies.”