why “voluntourism” matters

I don’t often repost articles on here (unless they’re incorporated into long-winded posts I’ve written), but this one speaks so greatly to the growing debate (and recent viral article) on “voluntourism” and exactly how to provide abroad experiences without reinforcing the supreme imbalance of poverty and privilege in the world. Well written by an individual with 30 years of experience, he articulates it in a way I have tried (and sort of succeeded, sort of failed, kind of) multiples times:

“Though I agree with much of what she says, I think Pippa Biddle is missing one essential point. The mature and thoughtful attitude she has developed on this topic is a direct result of the experiences she has had through her volunteer work overseas. Without her fumbling efforts overseas, she would never have gained the wisdom to support development in the south in a way that does not reinforce the systemic imbalance of power and privilege that is so much a part of our well-intentioned efforts to help. If there is fault to be found, it is the failure of the organizations that send young people abroad to properly define the objectives of those visits.

If young people understand that they are visiting the developing world to learn, not to teach; if they can approach their travels with humility, not arrogance; if they believe that the value of their visit is to make contact with and gain understanding of other cultures; and if they grasp the fact that they are able to make these visits because they come from an enormously privileged part of the world where it is possible for a young person to access a plane ticket and travel money, not because they have skills or knowledge that is not readily available in the country they are visiting; then visits or exchanges between young people can be really positive.”

Read the whole article here


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