One can envisage the fortunate youth across the world contributing to humanitarian causes. Numerous communities and cultures are in dire need of support financially, morally, and politically. The world has seen increasingly enthusiastic volunteers and humanitarians to serve the issue in recent years. In this process, we fail to realize the unintentional contribution to capitalization off of volunteers, which ironically makes matters worse for the needy.
Volunteers and Voluntourism
Humanitarian volunteers have significantly increased in the last few decades. In 2013, there was a 66% increase in the number of volunteers worldwide. With this growing trend, a new industry has emerged, which combines volunteering experience with tourism. This is the Voluntourism industry, which is most common in poor countries in Africa, South Asia, and South America. With programs priced at hundreds of dollars, the voluntourism industry is expanding rapidly. In these trips, foreigners volunteer and help the deprived. The visitors can construct buildings, support units, tutor, or even farm. However, this contradicts the goal of empowering and making the locals self-sufficient.
With a $173billion industry, the volunteers often see these trips from their travel agency’s rosy lens. These paid volunteering trips promise an enriching emotional experience, where volunteers devote their time, money, and physical energy. However, such volunteers often fail to delve deep into the core issues like systematic oppression, corruption, and power politics.
Such trips can cause financial and emotional damage to the locals. While volunteers extend support to these communities through their projects, they are not only taking away potential jobs of the locals but also making them feel inferior and inadequate. Subsequently, these projects undermine oppress the abilities and knowledge of entire communities of their history and culture. Volunteers often lack the skill training required in their projects, therefore, not fully effective.
There is no long-term beneficiary or contribution to the communities in consideration. A very small portion of the volunteer money goes to such humanitarian tasks. In hindsight, farming doesn’t cure the increasing farmer suicide rates, teaching students temporarily doesn’t cure the education system. Construction and farming projects even eat up day to day livelihoods of many to make matters worse.
Only a handful of the thousands of orphanages are legally registered. Over 80% of these orphan children have at least one living parent, who abandon their children or are compelled to do so due to unavoidable circumstances like poverty, disabilities in the child, family trauma, and many more. Another industry has advanced its way of making profits using unethical sources and exploiting these innocent orphans. The orphanage industry is another tourism industry, build with the motive to familiarize tourists to orphans and their living environments.
It is self-explanatory that children deprived of families have a higher risk of lacking full intellectual development. Adding fuel to the fire is increasing demand for such institutions through foreign funding, volunteers and tourists in orphanages. According to several research studies, children living in orphanages have higher chances of emotional abuse and neglect, or life-long trauma. Many orphans get sexually abused, get forced into prostitution or criminal groups. USA, UK, and Australia are providing the most number of orphanage volunteers to poor countries across the world.
White Man’s Burden and Repercussions
The psychological impacts of such acts include a succession of the quintessential concept of third world countries being dependent on first world countries. Naturally, it also makes the uneducated and unaware poverty-ridden populations believe that they are the ‘White Man’s Burden’, which has become a ‘Rich Man’s Burden’. This belief is being subconsciously fed to well-wishers by none other than businesses in third world countries. While you get bragging rights on social media and in your social circle, a giant industry has become successful in exploiting children and families and taking away their livelihoods and dignity.
What would responsible volunteers do?
Even with good intentions, volunteers and tourists have higher chances of sabotaging opportunities for deprived people to have dignified lives. In addition, these third-party operators are also cheating the volunteers of their good intentions. Instead of devoting weeks or months to other countries, we need to understand the years of systematic issues rooted deep in their culture. The way to go is to listen to them, and how you can help them will come instinctively. Some precautions we can take are:
- Research. Try and get involved only with organizations which are directly controlled and handled by the locals, or reliable people. Although you may have the drive to contribute to causes across the world, you should start at home, and support domestic organizations.
- Skill building and funds: If you have a strong urge to build personal connections to people in poor countries and their problems, make sure to have knowledge of the skills you need as their volunteer, and keep a target to accomplish by the end of your trip. For example, if you want to construct a school, make sure to fund the already employed labors with equipment and resources, and contribute by teaching them about technology and architectural insights.
- Long-term Volunteering: here you work with the locals, not for them, using skills you already have. You should know where your money is going, how you are contributing, and if in any case, you are contributing to unethical practices.