Update: Teresa Keller has kindly responded to this post in the comments section. I would highly encourage reading her comments as they address many of my concerns
There are those stretches we all have when it feels like the universe is playing games with us. We reminisce about Ace of Base and then ‘The Sign’ is heard not less than an hour later on the radio. People passing by talk about AoB and you even see an old t-shirt worn by a Brooklyn hipster. The initial thought is that some greater power is telling us to go out and listen to more Ace of Base. The truth is that we are just thinking about the given object and more attentive to it. ‘You are Not So Smart’ discusses the cause of this: confirmation bias.
So, what does this have to do with anything?
I am experiencing this a bit with Nick Kristof as of late. I feel like everything that stirs me in a negative manner comes from him. I know this not to be entirely true as I was happy to see this video that he did outside of Hebron on Jewish settlements. But this morning, as I cruised through twitter before breakfast, I saw this:
Being my curious self, I clicked to learn more. The about page told this:
My name is Teresa Keller and I am a single mom of three children – Jennifer (age 18), Alex (age 13) and Bella (age 12). We have decided to give up our home, schools and my job, sell many of our possessions, spend our life savings and borrow against my retirement to backpack around the world. My best friend’s daughter (Meagan, age 17) is coming along to experience the trip with us.
I was immediately struck by to things. First, the phrase ‘we have decided.’ Second, the fact that a non-profit was started for this endeavor. I was further troubled in regards to my first concern when I saw this:
Alex (13): I don’t like change very much, so I would rather have stayed home. I can see the stress the trip puts on everybody and I don’t want to leave my friends – my mom isn’t even sure where we will live when we get back! I know that I will probably have some “life changing experiences”, but that is a “probably” not certain.
To me, it does not sound like Alex is part of the ‘we’ who made the decision to pick up and leave. As J. put it, “Doing things we don't want is part of life. Making your child fear for where he'll live is irresponsible.” Reading ‘Three Cups of Tea’ does not make a person qualified pick up the life of his or her family and travel the world as a voluntourist.
With projects set up in different parts of the world, the Keller family would like us to donate money for the projects. They assure us that money will only go to the projects and not the travel. I want to give the benefit of the doubt to this claim, but I am worried when I see that the trip is funded, “with savings, proceeds from the sale of our things, and a loan against [Teresa’s] 410(k).” I worry that a person who has to dig into savings, sell everything AND take a loan on her 401(k) needs every penny possible. It will certainly not be a cheap trip, but I get the feeling that a salary for Teresa could or already has been put into effect. I do not mean to condemn the salary itself, but I would consider that being money that goes towards travel and not for projects (it is hard to know if this is already taking place or not as there are no reports for where the money donated is going).
Then, there is the issue of the projects chosen. It is unnecessary to focus on them individually. If they were sustainable projects that utilize the talents of the people they are serving the projects should rightly be supported. If not, they should not be. However, if asking for money, it is the responsibility of the Keller’s to provide as much information as possible about the projects they are supporting. Taking a few notes from the other direct pay organizations, a brief description is given with a listing of how much it will cost. Some are incomplete and all lack any links to where the projects were found or are hosted. Despite this, people will still donate. Since the site tells us that the projects were carefully selected, some people will donate.
It makes me want to start my own website for investments and list where I want to invest my money without telling people too much about the projects. Of course, I would have no interest because it would be seen as a money making venture that could lose a lot being that I have no experience. This does not translate over to humanitarian ventures as the desire to help out over-rides any sort of common sense.
If I could lose you money making investments, what makes you think that the Kellers are not funding projects that will create a loss? The family is well intentioned, but this is yet another example of a non-profit start-up that does not need to exist. I think the idea of traveling around the world as a family is fantastic, but maybe it would be best if that was the trip was about only. Then, upon returning and having seen the places first hand, begin to see what projects are accomplishing what is needed in the regions in which you traveled and begin to build support for those projects. The Kellers can be a valuable resource in telling what they have seen and observed.
***I will have to follow up in the next few days on voluntourism itself. It is far too big of a post to take on at the present moment and one that needs significant thought.