Thursday, June 26, 2014

Voluntourism

Do we really need to hate this so much?

In case you're unfamiliar with the term, voluntourism is the pejorative term for the practice of paying for a volunteer experience abroad, usually in a Latin American or Africa, and it's becoming fashionable to hate on this shit.

The argument goes that people going to these countries are usually not volunteering so much as they are taking pictures for their Facebook page. One of these things is ok, the other is not.

I help manage a small sponsorship organization in Ethiopia. I say this because I have some experience with taking people's sweet, delicious money. I'm also the type of guy that has a pretty simplistic view of ethics and morality. Just, fucking, do good things because you should do good things, and don't do bad things. Dumbass.

Sometimes we get people who want to donate money or sponsor a child because they want to show off that they are donating to charity, or because they think that their religion demands it or something. This used to bug me, and on some level, still does. Why not just donate money because it's the right thing to do, because you have a bunch of  it that you don't need and they have not enough?

One of the things I personally have had to learn how to do since starting at our organization is learning how to accept the fact that people give money to charity for lots of different reasons, some of which I may not agree with. But this is ok, solely because their reason for giving has nothing to do with the way we run the organization. If you gave some money because your religion demands it, that's great, but we're going to spend it the same way we would have if you were an atheist.

Which leads me back to voluntourism. Does it irritate me that some people volunteer just for the sake of making a cooler Facebook profile page? For sure. Do I think they're wrong in their reasons for giving their time? Absolutely. But do these reasons matter? Well, it depends.

The other half of this issue is people going abroad to volunteer in general, regardless of how many photos they take while they're there. On the one hand, this is an industry that is in constant need of resources. That much should be obvious. So, anytime that somebody wants to help out, it is generally a good thing. The problem though is that because resources are highly limited, the way we spend resources needs to be carefully controlled. Nothing should go to waste.

With that in mind, sending a twenty-something overseas to do menial labor is a huge waste of resources. Even assuming that the volunteer has skills that would be useful in the target country and stays there for long enough to justify the airfare, there is still the issue of housing and food, of which westerners have a different (higher) standard, which costs more money. Even under the best of circumstances, it is not only cheaper to hire local workers (skilled or unskilled) but better for the local economy as well. If we were to start hiring people to do the kind of work we normally make volunteers do, and pay them a decent wage, it will drive up competition, and people will begin training in those types of jobs. The training centers at this location would get more income, and slowly get better. There would be a competition among the training centers as well, to provide better education. These places would higher better people and so on and so forth and you get the point. I don't care what your motives are for getting involved in poor people's lives, but for god's sake, don't waste your money.
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