Whether it’s celebrities or ordinary teens with an organized secular group, the practice of traveling outside the United States for a service trip has become a widespread practice — and a multi-billion dollar industry. While this activity seems noble, the voluntourism industry often serves as a feel-good activity that doesn’t address problems at their roots.
Indeed, the sheer cost of traveling abroad limits the pool of eligible volunteers and often serves as a guilt absolver for wealthy individuals.
In Jacob Kushner’s New York Times Magazine piece, he encourages those considering volunteering “to abandon the assumption that we, simply by being privileged enough to travel the world, are somehow qualified to help ease the world’s ills.”
Volunteering abroad can often exploit the communities it claims to help. We have all seen the social media posts gushing about how voluntourists’ hearts have been changed by the children who demonstrated unparalleled joy because of their gracious help. These comments are then paired with a posed picture of said child with volunteer. While I am not accusing every volunteer of exploitation, the self-congratulatory nature of showcasing one’s good deeds comes off as insincere as they appear to care more about the perception of their work rather than the work itself.