The summer holidays are fast approaching which means in a couple of months affluent teens will be packing their bags and heading to third world countries to volunteer for the summer. While it is admirable that students are dedicating their time and money into helping the less fortunate, many problems occur with volunteering.
>Although intentions may be good, volunteering in third world countries often perpetuates the “White saviour complex”. The idea that only the West can save African and Asian countries from themselves. In volunteering, black and brown people are often used as a way to boost white egos and help privileged teens ‘find themselves’.
In addition, it is often more helpful to use the money spent on that trip to donate to a charitable organization instead, because lets face it most people that volunteer do not possesses the skills needed to actually help poorer communities. Which means they often end up causing more harm than good, by building weak structures that will need to be rebuilt later and may even be dangerous. Which end up costing the organization more money in the long run. When instead the money spent on the trip could be used to pay a skilled local to build the same structures, this will simultaneously provides jobs for local people and help boost the economy of the country.
If you have a genuine desire to help the less fortunate, it is important to remember that charity begins at home, and it is most likely more useful to volunteer at charities in your local area instead. You often hear the phrase “there are starving kids in Africa” used to create guilt, but not only does this phrase perpetuate ongoing negative stereotypes of Africa, but it fails to recognize that children are starving all over the world, and if you actually want to help to eliminate world hunger you don’t need to leave your country to do so.
Nowadays volunteering in third world countries has become more of a way to boost your CV or fill your Instagram with the all too common image of a white teen surrounded by smiling black and brown children, than an actual desire to make a change; and it is easy to forget that there are real people in these countries who will be affected by your actions, positively or negatively.
This isn’t to discourage people from volunteering abroad or condemn those that do, but to ask you to evaluate the real reasons behind your trip.