Paying to volunteer


“…Insiders call them guilt trips. All those teenagers heading off on gap years, fired up with enthusiasm. Those middle-aged professionals spending a small fortune to give something back to society. And those new retirees determined to spend their downtime spreading a little happiness. Now the flipside of these well-intentioned dreams has been laid bare in an incendiary report by South African and British academics which focuses on “Aids orphan tourism” in southern Africa, but challenges many cherished beliefs. The study reveals that short-term volunteer projects can do more harm than good. Wealthy tourists prevent local workers from getting much-needed jobs, especially when they pay to volunteer; hard-pressed institutions waste time looking after them and money upgrading facilities; and abused or abandoned children form emotional attachments to the visitors, who increase their trauma by disappearing back home.”

Before you pay to volunteer abroad, think of the harm you might do by Ian Birrell at the Observer

I grew up in South America. I spent decades traveling around the continent. I never (not once) understood foreigners who paid to come volunteer. Most of them are clueless and colonialist. They come with their little preconceptions of “saving the savages” and “bringing hope” (yes, because you see, we are all hopeless until they arrive). And yes, it takes away jobs from the local communities. Also, teaching 6 weeks of English to kids in a shanty town in the suburbs of some Latin American city isn’t going to lift them out of poverty. When the volunteer is gone, another one takes over, making the learning process work in hiccups and not in a constructive way (learning should follow a flow pattern, where the student trusts the teacher and vice versa).

Also, what always left me puzzled is how most of these volunteers go to some “exotic” location, one where they pay a small fortune to get to and insert themselves into, but do not even research or actively participate in their local initiatives back home. As if social justice in their home countries was a done deal and couldn’t advance any further. As if there weren’t marginalized minorities or youth that they could help locally. Many of these volunteers seem to be quite blind about their privilege not just on a global scale, but also within their own cities or countries of origin.

For the past decade and a half I have been making all my content available for free (and never behind a paywall) as an ongoing practice of ephemeral publishing. This site is no exception. If you wish to help offset my labor costs, you can donate on Paypal or you can subscribe to Patreon where I will not be putting my posts behind a lock but you'd be helping me continue making this work available for everyone. Thank you.  Follow me on Twitter for new post updates.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top