voluntourism

#intagrammingafrica: The narcissism of global voluntourism.

By Lauren Kascak with Sayantani DasGupta PhD

An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.”  The article quotes “22-year old Angela Fisher” who says:

I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.

It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”

I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.

***

I have participated in not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.

Such trips – critically called voluntourism — are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.

How do they attract so many paying volunteers?

Photography is a big part of the answer.  Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource.  Photography – particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children – is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.

It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even premeditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most “likes.”

Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.

The Suffering Other

In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.

Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph…

…must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.

The Self-directed Samaritan

Above we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, sovulnerable, and so Other.

The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10 day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?

This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On PhotographySusan Sontag reminds us:

Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”

The Overseas Selfie

[Photo removed in response to a request from Global Brigades.]

In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:

Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are … In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning – there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community but rather, as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.

***

Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.

In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iphones at home.

Lauren Kascak is a graduate of the Masters Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, where Sayantani DasGupta is a faculty member.  DasGupta is the editor of Stories of Illness and Healing and the author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories and Her Own Medicine.

vimeo

‘Africa Does Not Need A Savior, America Needs A Savior’

by Britni Danielle | clutchmagonline.com

Framed: A new film rejects America’s white savior complex.

When it comes to the continent of Africa, only a few stories find their way to the mainstream. While the continent is home to more than 50 countries full of diverse people and cultures, Western media often focuses on issues of war, poverty, disease, and corruption, leading many Americans to believe they must “save” Africa.

We’ve seen it time and time again through seemingly innocent initiatives like the Kony 2012 movement or celebrity-driven campaigns to heal/help/teach Africa. Though the intentions of those who participate in such projects may be good, their willingness to believe they can “save” an entire continent of people who are more than capable of “saving” themselves (if it’s even necessary), is naïve at best, and downright condescending at worst.

After I wrote about Witherspoon’s upcoming film The Good Lie in which she plays a hardscrabble white woman who “saves” a group of Sudanese refugees, filmmaker Cassandra Herrman reached out to me to tell me about her documentary, Framed, which takes a look at America’s savior complex.

In FramedHerrman and her team interview Africans from all over the continent to get their take on the West’s savior industrial complex, which has resulted in students, celebrities, and non-government organizations (NGOs) flocking to the continent, because as Binyavanga Wainaina put it, in their view “Africa is to be pitied, worshipped or dominated.”

Here’s more info about film via the Framed Kickstarter page:

FRAMED takes a provocative look at image making and activism, following an inspiring young Kenyan photojournalist turned activist who shatters the stereotype of the passive aid recipient. As he challenges American students to focus their efforts close to home, FRAMED turns a lens on popular representations of Africa and Africans, as seen through the eyes of Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina and South African born educator Zine Magubane, who ask a chorus of questions about the selling of suffering.

FRAMED tells the story of Boniface Mwangi’s work as an image maker and image changer. From the moment he saw how his own photography could heal Kenyan wounds, he repurposed images of violence to promote reconciliation, and rallied his peers to jumpstart a creative and political youth movement.  Visiting an American college, he challenges students to turn their attention to struggling communities around them. “Why do you want to fly all that way, and on your way to the airport you pass poverty, to go and help poverty in Kenya?”

Along the way, we meet Zine Magubane, who was born in South Africa and teaches American college students at Boston College about the portrayal of Africa in American media and pop culture.  “When you see celebrity activists in Darfur or elsewhere,” she says, “you’d think there were no African think tanks, no African universities, no African human rights lawyers working on this issue”.

Framed’s filmmakers are hoping to raise $28,000 to complete production on the documentary; so far, they’ve gotten just over $13,000 in donations and have 15 days left.

Watch the powerful clip of Framed belowVisit the film’s Kickstarter page for more info and to donate.

Source: http://www.clutchmagonline.com/2014/06/africa-need-savior-america-needs-savior/

I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to — who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.

External image

#Instagrammingafrica: The narcissism of global voluntourism.

By Lauren Kascak with Sayantani DasGupta, MD MPH

An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a 6-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s facebook profile picture.”  The article quotes “22-year old Angela Fisher” who says:

I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.

It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”

I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.

***

I have participated in not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.

Such trips – critically called voluntourism — are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.

How do they attract so many paying volunteers?

Photography is a big part of the answer.  Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource.  Photography – particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children – is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.

It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even premeditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most “likes.”

Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.

The Suffering Other

In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.

Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph…

…must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.

The Self-Directed Samaritan

In the image accompanying this story, we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, so vulnerable, and so Other.

The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10 day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?

This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On PhotographySusan Sontag reminds us:

Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”

The Overseas Selfie


[Photo removed in response to a request from Global Brigades.]

In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:

Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are … In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning – there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community but rather, as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.

***

Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.

In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iphones at home.

Lauren Kascak is a graduate of the Masters Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University, where Sayantani DasGupta is a faculty member.  DasGupta is the editor of Stories of Illness and Healing and the author of The Demon Slayers and Other Stories and Her Own Medicine.

Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip. Sadly, taking part in international aid where you aren’t particularly helpful is not benign. It’s detrimental. It slows down positive growth and perpetuates the “white savior” complex that, for hundreds of years, has haunted both the countries we are trying to ‘save’ and our (more recently) own psyches. Be smart about traveling and strive to be informed and culturally aware. It’s only through an understanding of the problems communities are facing, and the continued development of skills within that community, that long-term solutions will be created.
psmag.com
#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism

By BY LAUREN KASCAK & SAYANTANI DASGUPTA | June 19, 2014

“Voluntourism is ultimately about the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit." 

An article in The Onion mocks voluntourism, joking that a six-day visit to a rural African village can “completely change a woman’s Facebook profile picture.”  The article quotes “22-year-old Angela Fisher” who says:

I don’t think my profile photo will ever be the same, not after the experience of taking such incredible pictures with my arms around those small African children’s shoulders.

It goes on to say that Fisher “has been encouraging every one of her friends to visit Africa, promising that it would change their Facebook profile photos as well.”

I was once Angela Fisher. But I’m not any more.

I HAVE PARTICIPATED IN not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.

Such trips—critically called voluntourism—are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.

How do they attract so many paying volunteers?

Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography—particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children—is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.

It was the photographs posted by other students that inspired me to go on my first overseas medical mission. When classmates uploaded the experience of themselves wearing scrubs beside adorable children in developing countries, I believed I was missing out on a pivotal pre-med experience. I took over 200 photos on my first international volunteer mission. I modeled those I had seen on Facebook and even pre-meditated photo opportunities to acquire the “perfect” image that would receive the most Likes.

Over time, I felt increasingly uncomfortable with the ethics of those photographs, and ultimately left my camera at home. Now, as an insider, I see three common types of photographs voluntourists share through social media: The Suffering Other, The Self-Directed Samaritan, and The Overseas Selfie.

THE SUFFERING OTHER

In a photograph taken by a fellow voluntourist in Ghana (not shown), a child stands isolated with her bare feet digging in the dirt. Her hands pull up her shirt to expose an umbilical hernia, distended belly, and a pair of too-big underwear. Her face is uncertain and her scalp shows evidence of dermatological pathology or a nutritional deficiency—maybe both. Behind her, only weeds grow.

Anthropologists Arthur and Joan Kleinman note that images of distant, suffering women and children suggest there are communities incapable of or uninterested in caring for its own people. These photographs justify colonialist, paternalistic attitudes and policies, suggesting that the individual in the photograph …

… must be protected, as well as represented, by others. The image of the subaltern conjures up an almost neocolonial ideology of failure, inadequacy, passivity, fatalism, and inevitability. Something must be done, and it must be done soon, but from outside the local setting. The authorization of action through an appeal for foreign aid, even foreign intervention, begins with an evocation of indigenous absence, an erasure of local voices and acts.

THE SELF-DIRECTED SAMARITAN

Here we have a smiling young white girl with a French braid, medical scrubs, and a well-intentioned smile. This young lady is the centerpiece of the photo; she is its protagonist. Her scrubs suggest that she is doing important work among those who are so poor, so vulnerable, and so Other.

The girl is me. And the photograph was taken on my first trip to Ghana during a 10-day medical brigade. I’m beaming in the photograph, half towering and half hovering over these children. I do not know their names, they do not know my name, but I directed a friend to capture this moment with my own camera. Why?

This photograph is less about doing actual work and more about retrospectively appearing to have had a positive impact overseas. Photographs like these represent the overseas experience in accordance with what writer Teju Cole calls the “White Savior Industrial Complex.”

Moreover, in directing, capturing, and performing in photos such as these, voluntourists prevent themselves from actually engaging with the others in the photo. In On Photography, Susan Sontag reminds us:

Photography has become almost as widely practiced an amusement as sex and dancing – which means that…it is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power.

On these trips, we hide behind the lens, consuming the world around us with our powerful gazes and the clicking of camera shutters. When I directed this photo opportunity and starred in it, I used my privilege to capture a photograph that made me feel as though I was engaging with the community. Only now do I realize that what I was actually doing was making myself the hero/star in a story about “suffering Africa.”

THE OVERSEAS SELFIE

In his New York Times Op-Ed, that modern champion of the selfie James Franco wrote:

Selfies are avatars: Mini-Me’s that we send out to give others a sense of who we are…. In our age of social networking, the selfie is the new way to look someone right in the eye and say, “Hello, this is me.”

Although related to the Self-Directed Samaritan shot, there’s something extra-insidious about this type of super-close range photo. “Hello, this is me” takes on new meaning—there is only one subject in this photo, the white subject. Capturing this image and posting it on the Internet is to understand the Other not as a separate person who exists in the context of their own family or community. but rather as a prop, an extra, someone only intelligible in relation to the Western volunteer.

VOLUNTOURISM IS ULTIMATELY ABOUT the fulfillment of the volunteers themselves, not necessarily what they bring to the communities they visit. In fact, medical volunteerism often breaks down existing local health systems. In Ghana, I realized that local people weren’t purchasing health insurance, since they knew there would be free foreign health care and medications available every few months. This left them vulnerable in the intervening times, not to mention when the organization would leave the community.

In the end, the Africa we voluntourists photograph isn’t a real place at all. It is an imaginary geography whose landscapes are forged by colonialism, as well as a good deal of narcissism. I hope my fellow students think critically about what they are doing and why before they sign up for a short-term global volunteer experience. And if they do go, it is my hope that they might think with some degree of narrative humility about how to de-center themselves from the Western savior narrative. Most importantly, I hope they leave their iPhones at home.

This post originally appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site, as “#InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism.”

Source: http://www.psmag.com/navigation/business-economics/instagrammingafrica-narcissism-global-voluntourism-83838/

jama.jamanetwork.com
Duffle Bag Medicine
While the self-styled medical missionaries are piling into the back of the truck, I spot a young man, at most 19, wearing a cowboy hat, smoking a cigarette, and leaning against the makeshift frame that converts the backs of pickups into the primary form of public transportation here in...

Finally, someone has said it. No matter how good intentioned medical missionary work may be, it needs to be conducted in an ethical and thoughtful manner with end goals in mind. 

3

Hello Tumblr! An eco-reserve in a developing part of northern Costa Rica is in desperate need of help. I am trying to go there over the summer to donate my time to the animal care center, which receives countless injured, ill, and displaced wildlife. Above you can see some of the animals they care for; Memo the howler monkey, Mrs. Piggy the peccary, and Diego the baby three-toed sloth. The total cost to volunteer for 1 week is ~$2,000. This includes program cost, airfare, and insurance. Every $500 thereafter would allow me to stay for an additional week. Find out more (and donate if you want to help me make a dream come true!) at gofundme.com/hydguw

theguardian.com
Nepal's bogus orphan trade fuelled by rise in 'voluntourism'

Like an increasing number of tourists visiting Nepal’s mountain peaks, colourful markets and lush national parks, Marina Argeisa wanted to experience the latest must-do activity on the tourist trail: a volunteering stint at an orphanage.

What the 26-year-old Spaniard did not know was that her good intentions were unwittingly feeding an industry that dupes poor parents into sending their children to bogus orphanages in order to extract money from well-meaning foreigners.

It is a business model built on a double deception: the exploitation of poor families in rural Nepal and the manipulation of wealthy foreigners. In the worst cases, tourists may be unwittingly complicit in child trafficking.

Yet many of the occupants of these sites have at least one living parent. The latest investigation by Unicef, the UN’s children agency, found that 85% of children in the orphanages they visited had at least one living parent.

The trade in children begins in Nepal’s remote and impoverished countryside, where parents are tricked into sending their children to orphanages, often lured by the promise of an education.

“Once a child enters an orphanage, he or she seems to become the property of the orphanage owner … [In effect], they become prisoners of the orphanage,” he said. “[They] use the children as an income source, through the sponsorship of children who are presented as being orphans when they are not … and through the exploitation of overseas volunteers.”

When Dorota Nvotova, a young Slovakian, began volunteering at Happy Home in 2008, she was so moved by the children’s plight that she found a sponsor for every one of them. She raised about €150,000 (£122,000) for the home, but it was only later that she discovered the real reason its owner was so eager to attract foreign volunteers.

“It’s definitely about him making money. For him, it’s a business,” she said. “Whenever volunteers came he always tried to impress them and then they started fundraising for him.”

After strange behaviour at the orphanage aroused her suspicions about the home’s proprietor, Argeisa discovered that two sisters publicised as being orphans had living parents who had paid vast sums of money to a broker to send their children to the home to be educated.

And they were being educated, but at a cost far beyond anything her parents could imagine. The girls were being used to generate donations from tourists, with the orphanage claiming that their mother and father had abandoned them and no other relatives could be found.

After one of the sisters confessed that she was being sexually abused by the owner, Argeisa reported the allegations to a local children’s organisation, Action for Child Rights (ACR). The owner of the orphanage was subsequently arrested for attempted rape.

“This was very, very hard … I couldn’t stop my feelings against that man,” Argeisa said. “I think his mission was making money … and abusing children … He wouldn’t have set up the home if there were no westerners coming and giving money and doing volunteering.

This is not an exceptional case, says Jürgen Conings, general director of ACR, who has spent 10 years in Nepal investigating the nexus between foreigners, adoption agencies and orphanages. "I’m 100% sure that the majority of these homes are built for reasons other than childcare,” he said. “Foreign volunteers give a home credibility … and they pay to volunteer, so it’s a strong business model.”

A report by Tourism Research and Marketing estimates that volunteer tourism attracts 1.6 million people a year, and that the market is worth up to £1.3bn.

While there are no reliable figures about the scale of voluntourism in Nepal, Martin Punaks, country director of Next Generation Nepal, which reunites orphanage-trafficked children with their families, believes it is a growing industry. “There is the potential for huge profits to be made for those who intentionally and unnecessarily displace children from their families, so they can be used as lucrative poverty commodities to raise funds from well-intentioned but ill-informed tourists,” he said.

theguardian.com
Beware the 'voluntourists' doing good

Ossob Mohamud | Wednesday 13 February 2013 | theguardian.com 

I recently came across an interesting article questioning voluntourism and assessing whether it does more harm than good in communities of the global south. It reminded me of my own concerns with “voluntourism” that originated in my college years in which I had participated in Alternative Spring Breaks. It was considered an alternative to what most college students did on their vacations: spending idle time by the poolside. The university-organised trips sent students to spend a week in disadvantaged and poverty-stricken communities to volunteer. This could take the form of teaching English at the local school, assisting in building and beautifying new homes for residents, or environmental cleanups. Interspersed throughout the week were also touristy getaways and souvenir shopping. Although I had memorable and rewarding moments, I could never shake off the feeling that it was all a bit too self-congratulatory and disingenuous.

Voluntourism almost always involves a group of idealistic and privileged travelers who have vastly different socio-economic statuses vis–à–vis those they serve. They often enter these communities with little or no understanding of the locals’ history, culture, and ways of life. All that is understood is the poverty and the presumed neediness of the community, and for the purposes of volunteering, that seems to be enough. In my own experiences – also highlighted by the author of the article – this has led to condescending and superficial relationships that transform the (usually western) volunteer into a benevolent giver and the community members into the ever grateful receivers of charity. It makes for an extremely uncomfortable dynamic in which one begins to wonder if these trips are designed more for the spiritual fulfillment of the volunteer rather than the alleviation of poverty.

I couldn’t help feeling ashamed at the excessive praise and thanks we received from locals and those on the trip alike. I cringed as we took complimentary photos with African children whose names we didn’t know. We couldn’t even take full credit for building the houses because most of the work had already been done by community members. In fact, if anything we slowed down the process with our inexperience and clumsiness. And how many schools in the west would allow amateur college students to run their English classes for a day? What had I really done besides inflate my own ego and spruce up my resume? I had stormed into the lives of people I knew nothing about, I barely engaged with them on a genuine level, and worst of all, I then claimed that I had done something invaluable for them all in a matter of five days (of which most of the time was spent at hotel rooms, restaurants, and airports).

An entire industry has sprouted out of voluntourism as it increases in popularity, possibly equal to the increase in global inequality. As the gap between rich and poor widens, so too it seems does the need for those of the global north to assuage the guilt of their privilege (paradoxically, guilt only seems to deepen as many realise the illusory effect of their impact), or to simply look good. The developing world has become a playground for the redemption of privileged souls looking to atone for global injustices by escaping the vacuity of modernity and globalisation.

But does this address the root institutional and structural causes of the problem? I do not mean to deny, across the board, the importance of the work voluntourists do. Volunteers in developing countries fund and deliver great programmes that would not happen otherwise, but the sustainability and the effectiveness of the approach is what I question. Time and energy would be better spent building real solidarity between disparate societies based on mutual respect and understanding. Instead of focusing on surface symptoms of poverty, volunteers and the organisations that recruit them should focus on the causes that often stem from an unjust global economic order. Why not advocate and campaign for IMF and World Bank reforms? How about having volunteers advocate for their home country to change aggressive foreign and agricultural policies (such as subsidy programmes)? This might seem unrealistic but the idea is to get volunteers to understand their own (direct or indirect) role in global poverty. The idea is to get volunteers truly invested in ending poverty, and not simply to feel better about themselves.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/13/beware-voluntourists-doing-good

The White Saviour Complex + Asia

As usual, I hop on Facebook and I see another white person, fresh from the constraints of high school with the intention to set themselves free and go around the world, the sole purpose being going to and helping impoverished, developing nations. How inspirational! One can think – and at face value it truly is. Let’s be honest also, this white person – lets call them Pat – probably does not intend any negativity with this. They just want to help people. This is a noble cause, and I commend Pat, but I also wish they would rather not. To cut to the chase, the journey they are about to embark on does more harm than good – or just does nothing at all.

Lets assume Pat wants to go to work in an orphanage. Where would they go? Cambodia? India? Nepal? Let’s say Pat settled with Nepal. So they hop on a plane to Nepal to decide to help out in a local orphanage. 

Pat does not know the negative ramifications of going to an orphanage. Pat won’t know – let’s not castigate them. Castigate the mainstream media. Castigate whoever are agents of disseminating information advocating ideas of white saviorism. 

Ideas of white saviorism disseminated through Western media and other forms of media has correlated with deceptive, unregistered orphanages which are complicit in trafficking. Moreover, 85% of children in these orphanages have at least one living parent. Poverty is a major issue in countries like Nepal, and the white saviour industrial complex is not effective in combating poverty. Here’s another link which discusses orphanages in Nepal.

This is not limited to Nepal. White saviorism permeates countries in Asia, and harm us rather than advantage

Within Asia, industries such as the “rescue industry” has endangered the lives of women and children, by assuming that they are been sex trafficked. In Cambodia, rescue industries such as NGOs round up sex workers who they assumed to have been trafficked (they have not been) and “reintegrate” them into other forms of labor, such as the garment industry – which is an awful industry. (x) (x) (x) This has also affected sex workers in India.

What do I argue here? To think as critially as possible. Here, I present two examples of the ramifications of white saviorism in Asia, but there’s much more. It is vital we don’t fall into traps in media that claim that it is crucial to save these poor brown people. Alternatives include spreading awareness of poverty by actual people from that country, advocating for labor rights organisations and really, don’t go to orphanages. If you must go to a foreign country to help poverty, take a look at these links which offer alternatives to voluntourism which do not contribute to the white saviour complex.

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

medium.com
When I Was Young and Dumb I Tried to Save the World
As a college student, I became obsessed with ecovillages. Ecovillages are modern-day Utopian housing projects, community…
By Charlotte Ashlock

Here is another post about voluntourism!

I’m not sure that I agree with the framing at the end, where it talks about the author’s experience volunteering in Africa as “the best thing that ever happened to her”. Like, I accept that that’s true, but it does muddy the water about the whole VOLUNTOURISM IS BAD thing.

Let’s be clear: Voluntourism is bad. I’m posting this because it’s an(other) good story about the ways in which being a voluntourist is a useless and obnoxious thing to be. But I don’t know enough to know exactly how damaging voluntourists are on a macro level (this piece implies: not very) and I’d love to see one of you lovely people in the notes point me towards some data on the effects voluntourists have on the economies of the places they visit.

–Peter

irrawaddy.org
Voluntourism Boom Sparks Concerns over Benefits
Development experts and charities are concerned that the phenomenon of ‘voluntourism’ is harming vulnerable communities across Asia.

LONDON — Rapid growth in the multi-billion dollar volunteer tourism industry has prompted calls for tighter controls with concerns over exposing vulnerable communities to unskilled foreign labor and dodgy operators exploiting foreigners for profit.

Voluntourism, which allows socially conscious holiday-makers to pay thousands of dollars to work in poor communities across South America, Asia and Africa, has become a boom sector of the global travel industry.

Estimates of its size vary widely. Nancy Gard McGehee, an expert on sustainable tourism at the US university Virginia Tech, says as many as 10 million volunteers a year are spending up to $2 billion on the opportunity to travel with a purpose.

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, this month announced a “social impact” cruise which allows travellers to take part in three days of volunteering, helping to cultivate cacao plants, building water filters and providing English tuition.

But with no industry regulator, campaigners within the sector are concerned about the rising numbers of companies involved, with no mechanism to hold them to account for the work that they do.

“One of the challenges facing people wishing to volunteer responsibly is that there is no independent quality standard, no recognised regulatory body,” said Simon Hare, development director of British charity Globalteer.

“There are small local outfits as well as big corporations who see volunteering as a way of driving profits rather than an integral part of a long term strategy for communities with real needs. At best this can make volunteering a waste of time and at worst it can actually be harmful.”

Critics warn the lack of oversight means volunteers can easily end up in parts of the world without the skills needed to help, take away local jobs, and form bonds with children in need that are short-lived as they quickly move on.

In the wake of the April 25 earthquake in Nepal, the United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, said it became alarmed by reported cases of child trafficking, calling on orphanages and volunteer agencies to stop sending more willing workers.

“We would ask people to consider carefully the impact of volunteering or donating funds to post-earthquake Nepali children’s homes in Kathmandu. Without realizing it, such support may be indirectly harming children,” UNICEF said.

UNICEF said it had encountered the same problem in Cambodia, where there has been a rise in the number of unregistered childcare institutions, kept afloat by the funds and steady influx of volunteer tourists from abroad.

“Many volunteers have absolutely no childcare skills, and they’re being asked to perform a duty of care for children who are vulnerable. In a developed country, that would not happen,” said James Sutherland from Friends-International, a children’s charity based in Southeast Asia.

Australian academic Nichole Georgeou, co-author of “Looks good on your CV: the sociology of voluntourism recruitment in higher education”, said part of the problem was that the industry is consumer driven rather than driven by the needs of the local communities involved.

“There’s this idea that is in-built in voluntourism that we in the West have the knowledge and the skills to make a difference, we have a right to make a difference,” said Georgeou from the Australian Catholic University.

“It doesn’t even matter if we’re unskilled, it’s just the good will that matters because we’re somehow bonding anyway.”

A recent study by Britain’s Leeds Metropolitan University, published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism, warned students considering a project for a gap year or summer break that the most expensive trips were found to be the “least responsible”.

Authors Victoria Smith and Xavier Font said volunteer tourism organisations needed to take more responsibility.

“These organisations have a responsibility to ensure their programmes have positive and not negative impacts and should offer financial transparency,” said their report.

“This means proper needs assessments, appropriately recruited, matched and skilled volunteers working with locals, with clear objectives, sustainable programme management, reporting and lasting impact and respect.”

Some returning volunteers have expressed their concerns about the negative impact they might have had.

“The kids [in the orphanage] were so used to seeing volunteers that they were barely paying attention to us,” said Carla Salber, who volunteered in Cambodia with Projects Abroad, one of the largest voluntourism companies. “We felt betrayed.”

Voluntourism proponents dispute the claim that the industry is doing more harm than good, citing numerous schools and homes that would not have been built without voluntourists and their funding.

“The idea that people shouldn’t come at all in case they traumatise a child who had the most terrible in their life already is really verging on the ridiculous. All our volunteers want to do is help,” said Peter Slowe, founder and director of voluntourism provider Projects Abroad.

Globalteer’s Hare said it was a mistake to lump together good volunteering with bad volunteering and call it all ‘voluntourism’.

“This is a shame because there are organisations running really impactful volunteer programmes,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Regulation of the industry was the next step.

“For volunteering to be effective, more focus needs to be on making sure it is done properly,” he said.