Prosperity emerges for volunteers

by Marissa Ochoa, Staff Columnist

Volunteering sometimes sounds like petty work, but imagine being able to travel across the world to help better a community less fortunate than the San Diego norm. Voluntourism provides services to young adults and flys them to developing nations to contribute in helping nourish a needy society. For those living in poor conditions, volunteers would seem like a godsend sent to aid those who need it.

Not every incident someone believes to be a good Samaritan’s work turns out to actually be wanted in the first place. There’s an entire behind the scenes agenda that no participant in voluntourism would dare venture into, and maybe that’s because no one actually wants to admit to it. In reality, voluntourism isn’t as high and mighty as it seems.

Volunteer work is volunteer work right? Regardless of how or by whom, at least a helping hand is extended. Well, that’s not necessarily true. Think of it in terms of how someone’s help is contributing to developing countries. Voluntourism gives the volunteers what they want, an experience to help those less fortunate, but the community doesn’t necessarily get what it needs, which is long lasting changes.

To start, it’s undeniable that volunteering in a developing country is picture- and post-worthy. Today, when a picture is taken, more likely than not, that person is going to post it on all of his or her social network sites to see how many likes he or she can get in the next half hour. I’m not saying everybody is like this. I know for a fact that there are a few good eggs out there that don’t participate so vainly.

However, generally speaking, voluntourism gives an opportunity for young adults to look at themselves in the mirror and be happy with their good deeds while boarding the plane back home to their middle class, Starbucks drinking, Prius driving, “Oh my gosh, did you watch the last episode of “American Horror Story’?” lives. Hashtags like MedicalBrigades and InstagrammingAfrica are all indications of how people are currently using voluntourism for the sake of a really good profile pictures. I’m not going to say I’m above them either. I’ve been in those shoes before. A majority of us live this type of life, but only a small portion will actually admit that once volunteer work has been done, it’s all about the bragging rights.

Let’s look at the AIDS Orphan Tourism case. Just like voluntourism, people paid money to help orphans with AIDS through an array of projects they can choose to participate in. It all seemed dandy until it came to a point when voluntourists started to overcrowd and push out local workers, which actually hindered the community instead of helping it. In other words, too many voluntourists meant fewer jobs for the locals who actually needed them. Since voluntourism has now become an exploitation system, the whole idea of too many volunteers will never be looked at as a negative. Sadly, there’s been a shift from relying on the ethics of a project to relying on the profits of one.

With volunteers coming and going, people don’t stop to think about the psychological damage they’re inflicting on the children receiving the “helping.” For a majority of the time, volunteers are surrounded by children who don’t have stable parental figures. In turn, kids will cling to volunteers because, hey, that’s what volunteers want. They want to feel needed, but once the voluntourism trip is done, ties to those kids are cut and a new batch of volunteers replaces them. The ongoing “cling to cut” cycle these children go through is psychologically damaging and, although not proven but at least correlational, can have adverse effects on some when they get older. Voluntourism doesn’t factor in the emotional side effects it can have on these kids because in the end, it’s nothing but a huge business plan.

There are plenty of other cases similar to this and each one ends with the same ultimatum that voluntourism wishes to deny at all cost. It’s not about helping the poor, but about helping the volunteers.

I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and believe that voluntourism started out by people who actually wanting to better less fortunate communities and I’m sure there are people who volunteer for no other reason than out of the goodness of their hearts. However, take a step back and think exactly how somebody’s contributions are actually helping not only the physical community, but also the residents themselves.

The moral compass voluntourism loves to wave around isn’t exactly pointing due north anymore.