26 July 2011

Voluntourism is the Best Option? Really?

Eric Hartman writes in Good Intentions are Not Enough a defense for voluntourism. It is really less of a defense as it is a list of why he supports it.
Let’s first dispose of the false dichotomies: it’s not the case that everyone interested in international volunteerism should “just donate the same amount as their plane ticket and program fee.” Most international volunteers are not exclusively interested in funding development projects. They’re interested in supporting community goals, traveling to new places, meeting new people, connecting across cultures, and doing more good than harm while they learn and serve. They’re paying for that whole package and entire experience, not a development initiative alone.
From there he gives what four outcomes that voluntourism opportunities are invested. Frankly, they do not matter when starting from the point that Hartman lays out above. In short, he says that most people who take part in voluntourism are not concerned with development; rather they are interested in themselves.

This will not become an argument that says that every act must be selfless. That would be silly to argue. However, the priority should not be about if an individual likes to travel to new places and meet new people. An attitude like that will always put the experience of the individual above any activity done. That is why critics, such as myself, are concerned.

Education can be a part of it. People not caring about development is a matter of a lack of empathy and understanding. Not everyone will be as interested in the wonky points of intervention tweaks, but I think it is dismissive to say that growing an understanding of poverty is not possible.

That does not mean that everyone will be converted to the idea that it is better to make a donation. Rather, there can be a future where people are more inclined to make a donation. That is through education.

A part of education will be achieved through first hand experience. Voluntourism, at the present moment, is here to stay. So, it should be leveraged as much as possible in order to bring forward education and create a tipping point where less and less people will want to do such experiences.

Right now, successful voluntourism experiences should mean providing a strong education to those involved that leads to no further trips. Voluntourism is not all bad. It is certainly not all good and it is not the best option.


I also wanted to address the one section of the post that mentions me:
tradiction in the development blogosphere at the moment, where on the one hand there are numerous exasperated posts maligning the presence of unskilled or under-prepared development amateurs (see Tom Murphy @viewfromthecave, Tales from the Hood 1 & 2, or Dave Algoso in Foreign Policy , among many others) that somehow sit neatly alongside, sometimes even on the same sites as posts that extol the virtues of the searchers – the independent, hard-scrabble, keenly intuitive new social-sector-solution-makers: the entrepreneurs
To be as clear as possible. I, under no circumstance, am in support of actions done without any sort of prior learning/research/education/experience. That applies equally to DIYers, unskilled volunteers, skilled volunteers, travelers, and on and on. The concern is applied equally.