Tuesday, April 29, 2014


A voluntourist is someone like Jack, who wishes to combine exotic vacation travel with volunteer work. For anyone interested in being one, a dizzying array of choices awaits, from building schools in Uganda or houses in Haiti to hugging orphans in Bali. In all of them, the operational equation is the same: wealthy Westerners can do a little good, experience something that their affluent lives do not offer, and, as in Jack’s case, have a story to tell that places them in the ranks of the kindhearted and worldly wise.

As admirably altruistic as it sounds, the problem with voluntourism is its singular focus on the volunteer’s quest for experience, as opposed to the recipient community’s actual needs. There is a cost associated with such an endeavor. A 2010 report by the Human Sciences Research Council, based in Pretoria, South Africa, analyzed the thriving AIDS orphan tourism business in South Africa.

Under this program, well-to-do tourists sign up to build schools, clean and restore riverbanks, ring birds and act as caregivers to AIDS orphans for a few weeks. This led to the creation of a profitable industry catering to volunteer tourists. The orphans’ conditions are effectively transformed into a boutique package in which “saving” them yields profits from tourists. The foreigners’ ability to pay for the privilege of volunteering crowds out local workers.
The White Tourist's Burden

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