One of these days, a few of us are going to need to have a sit-down and have a serious talk about voluntourism.
By one of these days, I mean today. And by a few of us, I mean me. So, I’ll start. I do not like it.
Now, I know that there are many people with clean hearts out there. The kind of people that generally want to help the ‘less fortunate’, give something back etc., etc., so rest assured I am not talking about you.
But, I’ll tell you who I am talking about. I am talking about the type people that see a volunteering trip abroad to take some selfies and videos with some black and brown kids, and maybe even get some box-braids if feeling extra exotic.
In fact, let’s forget the selfies with the black kids for a minute and let’s just look at this purely from a logical point of view. You as a middle-class guy or girl from Europe want to help people from Africa or Asia because you’re such a good person. That’s fine, I hear you.
However, instead of perhaps donating money to a charity where your money and resources could be put to good use, you pay up to £2000 to a voluntourism organisation. With your £2000 you travel 4000 miles for example, from London to Kenya and end up painting the inside of a school. Now, can anyone tell me how paying £2000, travelling 4000 miles to paint the inside of a school in an improvised area is helping anybody? Can anybody tell me how that is substantially boosting development in the region, especially when you consider how such an amount of money could benefit those in need if it met them directly?
I don’t know. Maybe this is a little harsh from me. I haven’t volunteered in either Africa or Asia, and at this stage of my life, I’m not in a position where I am able to donate thousands of pounds directly to people that need it most. So, fair enough. If you want to go abroad and ‘help’ people, do what you have to do.
What I am less understanding about is the need to group yourself with the poor ethnic children and harass them with selfies. Just because they’re smiling, you think it’s okay? Do you even know their names? Do they know your name? What are the photos for? Because to me, it seems to highlight the illusion of having had a positive impact when overseas.
I think people just need to be a little bit more tactful. I mean, let’s compare. If I go to my nearest city centre and ask someone to take a video of me buying a homeless man a sandwich or giving him some change, you will be looking at me like I am mad. At the very least, some people will be suggesting I am showing off for social media – and perhaps they would be right.
This is not to suggest people shouldn’t take any pictures, but let’s be sensible about this. Dark-skinned children are not props. These children shouldn’t be used as a tool to gain likes on Instagram. They shouldn’t be used as a way to hook-up with people on tinder, nor should they be used to fill up your take me back picture album on Facebook.
What I am going to need is for some people to feel uncomfortable.
Once again, I must stress that I am not talking to you guys with the good intentions. I am specifically talking to those of you that were considering doing some voluntourism this summer in Africa or Asia and were already envisaging the 200 Instagram likes you would get from a selfie with little Tolu and his friends.
I am not saying not to help others. However, I hope I am being clear that, I would like people to think critically about their motivations before they agree to a three-week trip to Ghana. If you decide to help out abroad, leave both your iPhone and your western-saviour complex at home.