Voluntourism (short-term volunteering overseas), at first glance, is a wonderful thing. But when we delve further, things aren’t as they seem. If you want to know more about the unintended consequences of voluntourism, and why it isn’t the best way to support people living in low-income countries, check out this list of resources I have compiled.
“Voluntourism, the intersection of volunteering and tourism, is often criticised as doing more harm than good to local communities. In this documentary, we ask volunteers why they decided to volunteer, how their experience is going and if they think they are having an impact on local communities.”
“Increasing numbers of tourists including well-intentioned volunteers keen to help war-torn Cambodia are volunteering in the country’s orphanages. Volumes of research around the world have shown that orphanage care is associated with long-term psychological concerns. People & Power investigates the concept of “voluntourism” which is inadvertently doing more harm than good to Cambodian children, as well as the disturbing trend of exploitation by some companies that organise volunteers or run orphanages.”
“From 2011 to 2017 I lived in Cambodia, and during that time I learnt many lessons. However, the biggest lesson I learnt was that for developing countries to grow, it needs to be the local staff taking charge. This is my story.”
“A holiday helping out in an orphanage can be a rewarding experience. But voluntourism supports a system that is breaking up families.”
“Nobody decides to travel halfway around the world to spend weeks or months of their life undermining a local community. But voluntourism – like that famous quote about the paving on the road to hell – often comes close. The debate about the practice, like most things in life, is far more ethically nuanced than many organisations facilitating such experiences often let on.”
“Rai and Dingman were traveling together in Nepal. “We had lots of time to talk and speculate about the future of medicine and the role of our group,” Dingman says. Over a quiet dinner, Rai with great patience and logic explained that the best treatment for a poor patient in Nepal should come from an indigenous surgeon trained, equipped and funded to provide such care — and available for follow-up. Dingman was inspired by Rai’s logic and passion.”
“Some of these house building programs are ridiculous. Of course these foreign volunteers can’t build very good houses, they have never done anything like it before. One house that I saw looked alright when the volunteers left, but after one big wind it became completely misshapen. Just one gust of wind did that! Can you imagine, with all the extreme weather we have in Cambodia, what kind of poor shelter that house would provide? Fortunately almost everyone in Cambodia knows how to build a house, so once the family has said goodbye to the volunteers they usually just rebuild the house themselves. There is only one reason that families accept volunteers coming to build a house for them, and that is that volunteers bring money with them, and money equals power. If you have money you can do whatever you want, no-one will dare to say no to you.”
“We need to re-professionalise the practice of volunteering, by standing up to the ‘no experience necessary’ providers and accepting only opportunities that we can honestly say we would be fit for taking on back home. And when we do that..? Then I’ll feel proud to call myself a ‘volunteer’ again.”
“White people aren’t told that the color of their skin is a problem very often. We sail through police check points, don’t garner sideways glances in affluent neighborhoods, and are generally understood to be predispositioned for success based on a physical characteristic (the color of our skin) we have little control over beyond sunscreen and tanning oil.”
“But how many of us would take random, surprise snaps of Aussie kids walking down Sydney’s Pitt St Mall? Probably about as many who would want pictures of their own children adorning a complete stranger’s photo album.”
“Looking back on it, the company I went with was helpful on the front end but there was no sense of transparency. I know how much I paid for my trip, but I have no idea how much of that money actually went back to the orphanage. Of the money that did go to the orphanage, little if any of it actually went to help the children, as I believe that the owner of the orphanage kept most of it.”
“Most frustrating about my time spent working in the FIMRC clinic was the visits by Christian youth ministry trips. Groups of about 30 high school aged students and chaperones would come by private bus every day to build part of a new office for the local nurse. Along with their construction project, they would also bring suitcases full of donated goods to distribute to the community. We were often asked to translate for the group because there was seldom a member that could speak sufficient Spanish. They would gather a group of community members to hand out the presents, sing songs in English, tour the village to take pictures, eat snacks, and leave after a week. This was ultimately detrimental to the work being performed by the FIMRC clinic as often when walking down the road or conducting home visits with the intern or manager, community members would expect lavish gifts from us as well. For example, the paediatrician on staff would complain that mothers would demand cough syrup at the very minimum every time they visited the clinic, regardless of their child’s condition.”
“Being effective is not just about choosing the actions and behaviour to increase our impact, but also about avoiding actions and behaviour that can have a negative effect on the cause we are volunteering for. In fact, the damage caused by just one disrespectful or thoughtless volunteer can sour the positive impacts brought by many skilful and aware volunteers.”
“Every year thousands of well-intentioned foreigners come to Cambodia to volunteer. A few days of volunteer work have become as de rigueurfor visitors to Cambodia as visiting the temples of Angkor. As a result, volunteering has become a full-fledged industry here and, lately, the subject of a lot of negative press.”
“I see multiple colonial governors,” says Ghanaian software entrepreneur Herman Chinery-Hesse of the international development establishment. “We are held captive by the donor community.”
The West has made itself the protagonist of development, giving rise to a multibillion-dollar poverty industry.
From TOMs Shoes to international adoptions, from solar panels to U.S. food aid, the film challenges each of us to ask the tough question: Could I be part of the problem?
“Poverty is the main reason why millions of children still live in orphanages. It is often the only way these children can get an education and are sent to live away from their families.
Decades of research show that growing up in a residential care institution is harmful to a child’s development and well-being. This has led to a global effort to move away from this model of care as a response to poverty.
But well-meaning support for orphanages – through donations, volunteering, tourist trips and faith-based mission work – is weakening this effort and perpetuating the cycle of family separation.”
“For too long foreign nationals, mainly white people, have come into Black and Brown communities in the name of charity or mission work. They have portrayed one story to donors overseas, while we have witnessed a far different reality first-hand, seeing what actually takes place on the ground.”