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Voluntourism: the White Savior Industrial Complex?

Voluntourism: the White Savior Industrial Complex?

A scathing reflection on mission trips by Lauren Kascak, a graduate of the Masters Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University and Sayantani DasGupta, faculty member in #InstagrammingAfrica: The Narcissism of Global Voluntourism

I have participated in not one but three separate, and increasingly disillusioning, international health brigades, short-term visits to developing countries that involve bringing health care to struggling populations.

Such trips—critically called voluntourism—are a booming business, even though they do very little advertising and charge people thousands of dollars to participate.

How do they attract so many paying volunteers?

Photography is a big part of the answer. Voluntourism organizations don’t have to advertise, because they can crowdsource. Photography—particularly the habit of taking and posting selfies with local children—is a central component of the voluntourism experience. Hashtags like #InstagrammingAfrica are popular with students on international health brigades, as are #medicalbrigades, #globalhealth, and of course the nostalgic-for-the-good-days hashtag #takemeback.


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I have three “white” daughters: two MD’s; one a nurse practioner. All three have been on volunteer medical mission trips over the last few years. They have worked with NGO there are in the work or the long term working with local people to bring healing and hope in desperate situations. I am offended by the racist nature of this article. Cynicism is the poison of modern life. Cynicism is at the center of this article. When I leave this world it will be a better place because I have children who take the time from their busy lives to work for social justice in other places in the world along side the people who live there. I was the pastor of a church 15 years ago that had a sister church in Mexico that we visited once a year to conduct a medical clinic along with a local medical doctor. The impact of that experience on my children and the folks they have made life time friendships with can never be underestimated. I think the writer of this article owes a huge apology to all the good people out their doing their best to make a difference in a world in which the gap between the well off and the suffering masses continue to widen. The writer would better serve justice in this world by attacking the greed of the powerful in this country and in other countries and stop attacking the “white” people who have moved beyond their own cultures and skin colors to be in community with humans who may not share their pigment but who share their same hopes for a good life void of poverty and disease.

Ted Copland

Kascak is on target with an important warning. For many years working with an ecumenical group in Nicaragua we taught people the difference between pilgrims and tourists. Pilgrims trek to a new place to see the world in a new light. Tourists travel for souvenirs.

..Ted Copland

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