Originally, my plan was to create a poster and corresponding t-shirt that brought awareness to endangered animals. However, after days and days of agonizing over which animal I should specifically talk about (or if I should just address the issue in general) I decided to scrap that idea after a conversation with my classmate.
Out of curiosity, I asked Hannah (the classmate that I’m obviously referring to) what issue she was choosing to do. She answered with, “Do you know what voluntourism is?”
Immediately, I answered with a resounding yes.
It is an issue that I have read about many times in articles on the Internet, but not an issue that’s been given as much publicity.
The word voluntourism is a combination of the words “volunteer” and “tourism”. It refers to the act of leaving one’s home country to go out and supposedly help 3rd world countries. Notice I how I said “supposedly”.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against mission trips that are meant to help those less fortunate. What I take issue with are uninformed volunteers who do not do their research before embarking on a journey all the way across the globe. I also take serious issue with the for-profit companies and organizations that purposely market volunteering opportunities fully knowing that the mission trip will actually do more harm than good.
For instance let’s take the mission trips that involve going to orphanages in Africa to create schools (or something of equivalence). It sounds great doesn’t it? A group of people with good intentions dedicate their time and money to facilitating the learning of children who lack parental units and are too poor to afford an education. They do it completely for free. They arrive in Africa, build the schools, teach the kids to read and play sports with them, and finally, they snap photos before they leave to keep as a memento of the wonderful times and memories that were made.
So now here are just a couple of my questions:
- How much building experience did the volunteers actually have? If the answer is somewhere along the lines of “Not much, but they were taught how to build onsite,” (as many for-profit organizations like to market the missions trips as “learning opportunities”) then we’ve got a serious problem. Let’s keep in mind that these structures are meant to be used everyday by these children and the adults who will teach them. They need to be engineered to be stably sound structures. Letting inexperienced volunteers build a school results in the risk of the building possibly collapsing and causing casualties in an area that is already impoverished. No, I’m not being dramatic or overreacting. This has actually happened. Either that, or the male villagers will sneak out in the middle of the night to literally rebuild and fix everything that the volunteers had built during the day. True story. Google it if you don’t believe me. For comparison, I’ve been building sets for shows since my sophomore year of high school. I’m now a rising sophomore in college. I’ve got roughly 3-4 years of building experience under my belt and I also took a stagecraft class last fall semester at my university. Even with all of this experience, I still make mistakes and I most definitely don’t trust myself to build anything unsupervised.
- If the volunteers were told they weren’t allowed to take any pictures during the mission trip, would they still go? I think this question is pretty self explanatory. Basically, if you weren’t allowed to document and show the world the tremendously good deed you just did and the happy, smiling black children surrounding you, would you still go? Or honestly, what if you were allowed to take pictures but weren’t allowed to post them? Would it be enough for you to have a memory that exists only for you and in your mind, rather than on the Internet for everyone and anyone to see? #Don’tDoItForTheGram
- What happens in the aftermath of the mission trip? What happens to those poor orphans? What they need in their lives are stable, long-lasting relationships, not an attachment to a foreigner who is set to leave in a couple of weeks. Sorry if my words might be a bit harsh, but just imagine how much harsher it is for the children to suddenly lose contact with someone that they now care very much about. And what about the upkeep of the building?
- What are the children being taught? I mean besides math, science, and reading? Are they also being taught a religion such as Christianity? As a Catholic myself, I understand and fully grasp the concept of spreading the Gospel. And I’m for it. But when it’s being taught to a group of children/ people who lack the means for knowledge or additional research outside of what they’re being taught, that’s not spreading the Word. That’s called indoctrination. How would I be any different from the Spanish Conquistadors who came to America and basically destroyed the Native American way of life by forcing Christianity onto them? Granted, I’m not enslaving anyone or threatening to kill them if they don’t follow my beliefs…but still.
To reiterate, I’M NOT AGAINST MISSION TRIPS. I’m just against trips that do more harm than good and volunteers who do not fully research the work that they are setting out to do or think about the impact that their trip will have. And for the record, if I was ever asked to share my religion, I would be more than happy to.
I’m actually very excited about this upcoming project. Hannah and I decided to collaborate on it since we both felt so strongly about the topic and were both pretty upset at how something that started out with such good intentions could end up with such unintentionally disastrous results. This is the first time that anyone in Digital Imaging has chosen to collaborate so we have some pretty high expectations for the posters and t-shirts that we’ll be creating.
Thanks for reading, I know this post was a long one.