Questioning the value of “Voluntourism”

I recently came across this article, “Does Voluntourism Do More Harm than Good?“” It is a good read and I encourage you to click over.

Students on CLCE’s Alternative Break trips ask this and other important questions of themselves – before the service, during and after it.

  • What is our impact here?
  • What are the root causes of the challenges being face here?
  • What are the needs here?
  • What assets does the community here have? Are we acknowledging them and helping to maximize them?

For me the most important question is a matter of learning to serve with our heads as well as our hearts.  Yes good intentions and a spirit of care matter.  But we need to think critically, do the research, and understand the issues and the community.

  • How can a group smart college students make a bigger impact here?  

While most of the time we can feel proud of the service we do within the confines of the Alternative Break trip, the true potential for impact is seen in what happens next.  What do we do with what we have learned on these trips?  Many students come home full of gratefulness to the community who welcomed them and taught them so much.  They are often fired up about raising funding to send back.  Go for it, and let me know how I can help.  What about advocacy?  What about influencing policy – governments, corporations, the World Bank or IMF or other organizations that need to hear about this community.

A more long term question is: What will you do with the privilege of a college education to make a difference?

Alternative Break trips can be incredibly powerful.  Some students come home and change their major, or shift their professional goals in ways that value making a difference over making piles of money.

If you choose to join us on an Alternative Break trip, or if you choose to engage in “volunteourism” (please choose a reputable agency to work with), please do so with mindfulness.  What is your impact here?  What are you learning?  What is needed in the long term that you can address?


4 Responses to “Questioning the value of “Voluntourism””

  1.   mfuerst Says:

    I heard a few of these points from what you said earlier at the Cornerstones panel! For the Florida AB trip many of us in the Sustainability/Leaderhsip LLC are going on, it’s simple to say we want to go and do conservation work, but there is a human aspect that you can’t bypass; how do we integrate the human element with the environmental one? I think advocacy does this, because if you can get the people of the community to care about the ecosystem around them, they can change their lifestlyle to be beneficial to the environment instead of destroying it. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be an impact. It would be like building a block tower every year just to have it knocked down every time.

    •   Wendy Wagner Says:

      Your building block analogy is such a good one, Mimi. That’s exactly what a good Alternative Break program should be trying to avoid. It’s important for the student teams to think about not only what will we do during the week of our trip, but what can Mason as a partner with this community in Florida do in on an-going way?

Leave a Reply