A new campaign making people ask the hard questions about voluntourism

For the past couple of years I have been trying to promote the empowerment and sustainability of organisations in developing countries by making people think twice about voluntourism. I can’t count the number of times my friends have had friends of theirs coming to Cambodia who want to volunteer, and knowing my stance on the topic, they put me in touch with them. I give them my usual spiel, but most of the time  these people choose to ignore my advice and find somewhere to ‘play with cute kids’.
Thankfully, a new campaign called ‘End Humanitarian Douchery’ is underway and getting some exposure. They have shone a light on this issue in a fun and informative way, including listing ‘The Seven Sins of Humanitarian Douchery’, as follows:

Research Slothery

When sloth-like laziness leads to a lack of research on volunteer organizations and host communities. This could give rise to the wrongful support of unethical organizations and performing work that is not in line with communities’ needs.

Workin’ Pride

When a volunteer’s pride gets in the way of their realization that they might not be suited (or qualified) for certain types of work. This leads them to do work that they are untrained and unqualified to do, which could hinder progress within the organization.

Volunteering as Gluttonous Consumption

When volunteers treat their trip like any other act of consumption and trample into host communities with a mindset of vacationing and tourism, pursuing photo opps and messy nights out instead of a true learning experience.

Greedy Grabby Volunteering

When volunteers are blinded by a “me me me” attitude that leads them to impose their values on the host communities they visit. A greed for the perfect volunteer experience can lead to a lack of consideration for what would best benefit those in the local community.

Fishing for Envy

When volunteers pursue trips for selfish reasons like making themselves look good and making others jealous. Volunteering without the right intentions puts volunteers in the wrong mindset for valuable contributions.

Lusting for Likes

When volunteers flaunt their experiences on social media and portray themselves as ‘heroes’ who are ‘saving’ the third world, often through photos and stories of their trip. This can reinforce stereotypes, images of differences and unequal power relationships between the volunteer and their host community.

Ragingly Enlightened Wrath

When volunteers return home from trips and look down on others for not having done the same thing. This sin doesn’t necessarily impact local communities, but is probably the douchiest sin of all (and your friends will likely agree).

They then go on to list considerations you should keep in mind when choosing an organisation to volunteer with. These questions are pretty much in line with what I have said before, but lets list them just in case you haven’t read/opened your ears to what I have said before.

1) Ensure you won’t be taking/displacing jobs that could be valuable to the locals of the community.

2) Assess the impact of the organization you’ll be working with

3) Ensure goals are LOCALLY driven.

4) Consider the sustainability of what the organization does.

5) Question and be wary of organizations accepting un-vetted/unqualified volunteers (& and don’t let that be YOU!)

6) Research management and transparency of the organization

7) Consider implications of your presence in the community (and your departure)

8) Question organizations that are spending disproportionate amounts of resources on catering to the volunteers

The aim of this campaign is “not to shame volunteers into hating themselves but to empower them to pursue their passion in a responsible way.”

I really hope that people will open their minds and take this advice on board. Remember, I was once a voluntourist, and have learnt the hard way that more often than not, we do more harm than good. Let’s forget about how good volunteering makes us feel, and concentrate on the most important issue; whether what we are doing is REALLY helping those in developing countries.