While travelling, along with while living in the US, I have volunteered and witnessed many people volunteering with a number of different organizations.
In Stellenbosch, South Africa, I took a course called learning for Sustainable Community Engagement in which every Monday and Friday I would go to an elementary school called Lynedoch. On Mondays, I would be in charge of running the second grade classroom for the day, and on Friday’s we would have lecture at Lynedoch where we learned about sustainability, teaching, communicating, the Lynedoch community, and how they all fit together.
One night while talking to some local guys in Cape Town about what we were doing there, their response was very negative. “Oh, so you think you can just come in and ‘fix’ our country?” he asked. The boys explained how they felt that Americans and Europeans came into their country for a short amount of time trying to fix a problem – a problem that they knew nothing about in a country that they couldn’t understand.
In Sevilla, Spain, I volunteered at a gypsie daycare where once I week I helped out the teacher of the 2-3 year old class. One day a little girl said something to me about her being a gypsie and me not understanding because I was white and an outsider. While she was only three, and she could be repeating things she heard her parents or other people say, the tone of her voice and the way she made the statement was as though it was a bad thing that I was coming into her place as an outsider.
This idea of voluntourism is something that I have begin to become more and more aware of and interested in the more that I travel. So my driving question is this: What are the pros and cons of voluntourism and how beneficial/harmful can it be to all involved in the process? What can be changed, or what alternatives are there to improve the current ways of voluntourism?