As the title of this article has probably informed you, I cannot be counted among the legion of voluntourism fans. For those of you who don’t know what this term means, let me explain. Voluntourism is a term for an industry built around twenty-somethings spending their hard-earned money to volunteer in different countries around the world. As the name suggests, it is an amalgamation of tourism and volunteering. Essentially, a vacation with a slight work component.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Spend some of your privileged cash flow in order to help a developing country. In practice, however, the personal resources of the young (as in, us) could be much better spent. Often, these programs are advertised more like a vacation than as a practice in difference making. There is something inherently disconcerting about a company making money off the backs of young students, in order to send them to the developing world, where their work could make a miniscule difference being part of an untrained workforce.
This is not to say that I don’t support volunteer work. My own parents met in Sierra Leone while volunteering for a number of years. Their trip was not a three-week practice in fun with a side of a helping hand. These were multiple-year commitments to a nation that would soon undergo a major civil war.
I do believe, however, that one’s resources are better allocated to the local community than the coffers of some corporation. Sure, it might not be as sunny in Regina as it is in Belize, but you can also make a tangible difference to your local community, and you won’t even be financing a CEO’s salary.
I cannot fault those who go on these trips. I do believe that they are doing what they believe to be in the best interest of the world. The volunteers are gaining valuable life experience, meeting new people, and doing good work in foreign communities. I’m sure that many have made incredible differences in under-supported communities across the globe through their ventures. I can’t help but think, however, that many more come away with an unearned sense of accomplishment. The Good Samaritan strikes again – now for only X amount of payments of $19.94.
At the end of the day, there are community-based organizations that could really use your help. Carmichael Outreach and SEARCH (Student Energy in Action for Community Health) are two volunteer opportunities that come to mind.
Instead of the almost $3000 you could send Projects Abroad in order to teach basketball abroad for three weeks, you could join the RCBA as a community coach. Don’t you think that two months worth of teaching in Togo (value: $4,085) could be better spent on local school projects?
All of this is to say, think before you spend your money on international projects. If you want to make a tangible difference, a longer time commitment within our community will undoubtedly help more than a two week vacation in the sun (even if it does come with a newly-built well).