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The problem with ‘voluntourism’

The problem with ‘voluntourism’

Pippa Biddle has spent years working in different countries trying to make the world a better place. She has concluded that when it comes to helping the developing world, it might be best for middle-class white folks like her to stay home. She writes:

I don’t want a little girl in Ghana, or Sri Lanka, or Indonesia to think of me when she wakes up each morning. I don’t want her to thank me for her education or medical care or new clothes. Even if I am providing the funds to get the ball rolling, I want her to think about her teacher, community leader, or mother. I want her to have a hero who she can relate to – who looks like her, is part of her culture, speaks her language, and who she might bump into on the way to school one morning.

After my first trip to the Dominican Republic, I pledged to myself that we would, one day, have a camp run and executed by Dominicans. Now, about seven years later, the camp director, program leaders and all but a handful of counselors are Dominican. Each year we bring in a few Peace Corps Volunteers and highly-skilled volunteers from the USA who add value to our program, but they are not the ones in charge. I think we’re finally doing aid right, and I’m not there.

Read her full post here.

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JasonC

I agree with her basic point (don't go overseas and make things worse), and the story she tells about African workers rebuilding brick walls at night so that privileged US private school girls can feel good about themselves is hilariously awful, but I think she underplays the real point of any service: the encounter and community building that can soften the heart of the one who is serving and help her see the larger picture of systemic injustice. You have to get that picture before you can fight it, and its hard to get it if you stay wrapped in your cocoon of middle class "normalcy."

Jason Cox

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John D. Andrews

I agree to a point with the author. I spent a week in the Dominican Republic with an exploratory group from the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska to see how we could partner with the DR Diocese. I left believing that the people in the DR have more to give us than we have to give them. They showed me what outreach is and my attendance at the Evangelism Conference in Estes Park after that gave me the theological foundation for outreach. I believe it is important that we in the U.S. go on trips to partner with other dioceses. It is important that we ensure we seek to walk side-by-side with others and that we never seek to take the lead. We have much to learn from one another as we are led by the Spirit.

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John B. Chilton

The recommendation here sounds a lot like what happens with remittances. Remittances are what happen when, say, a Dominican gets a job in the U.S. and sends money home to the family. The family determines what to spend the money on, and spends it in the local economy.

There's nothing better than the cash. Which raises the question, we do we in the U.S. tie so much of our safety net to in kind transfers (food stamps, housing subsidies, subsidized health insurance with mandated benefits) rather than straight up cash?

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