Volunteers, orphanages, and good intentions
May 26, 2016 2:54 AM   Subscribe

"I was asked recently by a friend to meet some people from her church in the US who were visiting Uganda on a mission trip. The aim of the meeting was to convince them that supporting and visiting orphanages was doing more harm than good."

Mark Riley's article is part of the Better Volunteering, Better Care group's #StopOrphanTrips campaign, against international volunteering in orphanages. Their position paper is here (pdf):
In some cases, residential care centres are being used as a solution to rural poverty by well-intentioned individuals or organisations who wish to support communities, and do not realise that other types of care are not only cheaper, but also much more positive solutions for children. In other cases, residential care centres are created as businesses; generating income from people willing to volunteer their time and donate their money to help "orphans". In addition, in countries such as Nepal, there is evidence of residential care centres being linked to child trafficking.
Another perspective from Bekka Ross Russell, in Tanzania:
So I hate orphanages, because they mean that family preservation and reunification work has failed - or more frequently, hasn’t even been tried. And I also partner with and fund a local orphanage that has existed for many decades, because it is deeply loving and embedded in the community, and without its existence, many children would have died. I hate that foreign organizations are building new facilities everywhere, and yet I am building a children’s village for the orphanage children as they grow up, because it keeps them in family-style homes with consistent caregivers in their own community.
And more on 'voluntourism' and orphanages, by Lamorna Byford:
A quick canvas amongst my friends elicited quite a different response – “well someone needs to look after those poor kids”. After several attempts to argue that voluntourism isn’t the best way to support these children and their communities, I gave up. I won’t rehash the arguments for or against voluntourism here. What I want to explore instead, is why my intelligent, culturally aware friends are so willing to accept that allowing un-vetted individuals into institutions with vulnerable children is a good idea.
posted by Catseye (68 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
That’s more than $5m spent on mission trips to Uganda; money that could have been put towards much needed welfare reforms and social services. To put this into context, the cost of closing an orphanage of 30 children, addressing the core reasons for separation, and supporting the families for at least a year is $12,000.
posted by oheso at 4:01 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but that money probably wouldn't have been spent on that, because the volunteers are actually paying for an experience, and they don't get to have that experience if they just send money to pay someone else to provide social services.

Seems to me like the best part about voluntourism, for the receiving country, is that it's tourism! These well meaning volunteers bring dollars, which have more value, probably, than their unskilled temp labor (in places which don't particularly suffer from labor shortages.) Getting them invested emotionally in your community can bring more dollars to follow.

It almost seems like the smart thing to do would be to set up "voluntour resorts" where people can come stay in a hotel (providing jobs for locals) and help put on events for the community so that they can feel their labor is useful and meet some people from outside their bubbles... Let them do "Cultural exchange" events where people can even find out about the volunteers' relgion if they so choose (it'd be awesome if that were a two-way exchange).... "Sex education" events where volunteers can hand out birth control and lectures they want. "Girls in science" events... "Sustainable farming" events... "Early child development" events... Barn raisings. Quilting bees. Let the volunteers feel like they're doing good in the world by educating people or building stuff or whatever feels satisfying to them. As long as they throw good parties and provide free food, and attendance is optional, they will probably not be doing too much harm. And the community gets some tourism dollars, and maybe some lasting relationship with these people that will generate follow-on visits and more dollars and more sympathetic voters back in the US...

"What to do with well-meaning but ignorant volunteers" seems like an easier problem than "how to set up a functional foster care system in a place with a shortage of social workers." I think even in the US we are still trying to figure that out...

(I do wonder if some of the orphanages and their support organizations couldn't be repurposed as domestic violence shelters, though... Give women AND their children a place to go... Not sure what already exists along thise lines or to what extent a domestic violence shelter can really use unskilled temporary labor, though.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 4:14 AM on May 26, 2016 [19 favorites]


Ahahahah.

Bitter bitter laugh.

Ahahahahahahaahshshshshshshsh.

Yes. Well.

I comment from a day spent closing down a project that cost $1,600 on average to do crisis intervention for very difficult families where we had one kid needing foster care out of more than a hundred, and having my inbox filled with questions about adopting these orphans, volunteer short trips with children...

Only upside of closing is I never have to patiently explain and explain again to another wilfully callous person how their holiday experience hurts a child.

I say wilfully because there is no fucking excuse not to know better now. It's slicked up feel good emotional exploitation of the poor and vulnerable for profit.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:15 AM on May 26, 2016 [33 favorites]


All the good volunteers I had went on these stupid trips and came back horrified by the waste and pointlessness and did something about it with thoughtful projects.

The rest posted to facebook about how they really connected and felt transformed.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:18 AM on May 26, 2016 [32 favorites]


One participant became quite upset at the thought that they would be forced to, under the National Alternative Care Framework, attempt to reunify Muslim children with their Muslim families, or attempt to find appropriate Muslim families to foster or adopt children if reunification was not possible.

And here we see the fact that they're called "mission trips" is not coincidence (plus some good old American Islamophobia). The US Christian fascination with orphanages in Africa was never about helping children so much as about "Christianizing Africa".
posted by hoyland at 4:26 AM on May 26, 2016 [32 favorites]


People like to believe they have something to offer. But in the case of aid work, you have to ask yourself what it actually is that you have that the people you want to help do not. And most people are going to be pretty unsatisfied with the real answer to that question in the majority of cases: money. People would rather invent a new labor saving device (except that the people you want to help are just as clever as you, and know the situation better than you do) or build a school (except that the people you want to help are just as good or better at building things than you and they need the work). In short, people would rather believe they are special than lucky, that their success in the world is the result of skills, or at least resulted in skills, that make them more capable of helping.

Of course some people do have skills that are helpful. But most of us just have more money.
posted by Nothing at 4:44 AM on May 26, 2016 [75 favorites]


Yeah, sorry man, these are largely literalist evangelicals we're talking about. Their charitable work is typically 100% about the doer and not the recipient. The Bible says to "visit orphans and widows in their affliction," not to try to prevent them from becoming orphans in the first place. They are going to literally find orphans to visit come hell or high water, because that's what the Bible says, and the interest is in being Biblically correct, not in finding the most efficient or useful ways to help actual people with actual needs.

(Plus the whole American evangelical mythos that's grown up around pro-life-ily saving orphans and adopting them to Christianize them and then being SHOCKED to discover that contrary to incessant evangelical propaganda about unwanted children needing homes, there are not all that many people even in quite poor countries looking to abandon their children. They are going to MAKE ORPHANS HAPPEN because they've built themselves a whole political edifice around the moral and political good of saving orphans.)

Also because evangelical churches have no overarching institution and little institutional continuity, their projects tend to be one-offs like mission trips and building a building. Whereas you'll easily find, say, Jesuit ex-orphanages that morphed into social service agencies 80 years ago, because there's a continuity and a long-term engagement with the community, rather than a hyper-local group that'll have this pastor for 5-10 years and then get interested in something else entirely or maybe just stop existing.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:46 AM on May 26, 2016 [75 favorites]


(Realize that the articles talk about UK voluntourism in parts but am more familiar with the vast edifice of US voluntourism and I know EXACTLY where those particular problems come from. Not sure if I was clear enough that I was talking about my local bit of the problem.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:01 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really like the Becca Ross Russell article. In general, orphanages aren't great places for kids to grow up, and most the effort and money should be to support families to be able to keep kids. However, there will always be some kids who need an orphanage for at least a while and it important that those orphanages exist and work to help kids have long term attachments. You do that with long term staff and ties to the community, not volunteers. It doesn't really help kids to have volunteers rotating in and out which should be obvious to anyone who has thought about attachment theory.
posted by Alluring Mouthbreather at 5:05 AM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I wish I could convince Christians that "widows and orphans" in the Bible refers to "single moms and their kids."

(Seems plausible to me. I think marriage and death records were pretty sparse compared to today? So it feels like a lot of widows must've been in the kind of marriages that involved jumping over a broom, a lot of "dead" husbands might've just been dead beats who disappeared because they wanted to, and were considered "probably dead, or might as well be" after a certain amount of time... And "orphans" has been used to mean "fatherless children" even in English until relatively recently...)

Because if we could get Christians to read "widows and orphans" as "single moms and their kids," they'd find a lot of them to help right here in the US, and might find their conscience pricking them when they vote against welfare benefits for single moms and their kids.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:05 AM on May 26, 2016 [41 favorites]


In mainline Christian groups in the US, that IS largely how those passages are interpreted, hence significant social services commitments by major denominations. But mainline Christians aren't tied to hyper-literal, ahistorical, English-only readings of the Bible as a matter of faith.

(Like, it's pretty clear in some parts of the Bible that "windows and orphans" means "widows and their children" who are being called orphans because they're fatherless and thus without financial support or community protection, not parentless. Other spots they seem parentless.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:13 AM on May 26, 2016 [9 favorites]


A co-worker recently visited a school in the Dominican Republic as part of a regular vacation, bringing them school supplies and meeting the kids. It annoyed me a bit, because I know a gift of money would be more helpful, but I wasn't giving money so I accepted that she was doing more good than I was.

What really bothered me, though, was hearing her talk about it. She kept saying "the kids had nothing" while describing pictures of smiling kids in a modest, but honestly not appalling looking schoolhouse. Maybe she was right, but it seemed like she needed their poverty to be as awful as possible to make her feel as good as she could about herself.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:21 AM on May 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


It is mentioned in passing in this article, but many of these orphanages are deeply involved in human trafficking for adoption of children who are not orphans but do have extended family who could care for them given the opportunity. Also many of the volunteers are there to find a child to adopt. In some cases biological family members sign surrender papers thinking the child will go to the US or other Western country to get a good education, then come back as an adult to their biological family, which is a lie. As was noted, struggling families sign children into these orphanages to get the benefits offered which are not made available if they stay with extended family.

Ironically many of the Evangelical White families who are eager for a black African child (how exotic!) have no interest in children of color in the US foster care system, nor do they care to help moms and babies of any race stay together if those moms are deemed sinful under their creed. A big part of their view of adoption is making more Evangelical Christians and "rescuing orphans" from those they deem heathens. This also ties into the "Quiverfull Movement" to have as many children as possible. If you can't have them biologically, adopt a slew of kids whether you can adequately care for them or not. God will provide, and if not, they can be "rehomed" to another good Christian family through an underground child exchange network.
Ugly stuff under the banner of Good Deeds.
posted by mermayd at 5:37 AM on May 26, 2016 [22 favorites]


I think this thread really needs a link to the Katherine Joyce article in Mother Jones about the Evangelical adoption movement and resulting "rehomed" children.
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:44 AM on May 26, 2016 [16 favorites]


You do not need orphanages for orphans.

You need group homes and foster care and kinship care. You need a range of options supported with trained and resources staff so extended families, local communities and countries can provide alternative homes for children and youths.

You never ever need to have children living in institutions fulltime.

Children attending boarding schools with foster or kinship families for weekends and respite, sure.

But children need to bond with a few alloparents and a stable sibling group. Not a changing staff and an enormous group of eartificially segregated by age and gender children.

The most well equipped and staffed orphanage is fundamentally damaging for a child. A neglectful home would safer and healthier, and the research coming out is showing over and over how bad these places are for child development.

And foster care can be awful, but a predatory staff member at an orphanage destroys hundreds of lives by access. They're just toxic.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:44 AM on May 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


One of the most irritating things I saw when flying to Kenya for a research project was a church group - all wearing matching lime green t-shirts that said "JESUS 4 AFRICA" - flying into Nairobi as well. I ended up sitting next to one of them, an older woman who explained that they were a group from a church outside of Dallas who were going to go to build wells for the Masai and spread a little hope in such a sad place. I was a non-confrontational 20-year-old at the time, so I didn't say anything more (although I was a little gleeful about telling her I was going to work on a project excavating human ancestors so we could better understand human evolution). But really. What, other than money, can a group of 50 year old suburban Texans offer a community of pastoralists in Kenya? How was this grandma going to "build a well" for the Masai?

I completely understand the sense that traveling to a place where you are obviously and wildly better off than many of the people you interact with is uncomfortable and makes you want to DO SOMETHING to SOLVE THE PROBLEMS. On a different trip to Kenya where we were studying Swahili, our professor got us volunteer opportunities at - yes - an orphanage/school, focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and educating street kids. I loved hanging out with the kids at lunch and recess, and I was shadowing the math teacher who just had me grade student work for her. I was there for five days, and I have never felt as guilty as when I left. Just another one in a sea of white faces who come and make friends with kids and then disappear without making any sort of lasting impact. It felt very much like I was assuaging my guilt rather than providing any actual benefit to anyone.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:50 AM on May 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


Look, there are a lot of problems with Evangelicals, but lack of willingness to adopt children of color in the US is not one of them. I don't believe in their theology, but their willingness to adopt the children that few other people are, in their belief that abortion is wrong and every unborn child should have a home found for them, is pretty serious. Most of the evangelicals I know with adopted children have at least one disabled child, and generally multiracial or children of color as well.
posted by corb at 5:52 AM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


(I should say that, as far as I could tell, the Wema Centre where we volunteered was a really fabulous place that's doing really good work for the shockingly large populations of street kids in Mombasa and Central Kenya, and if you are moved to donate or volunteer, they seem like a good place! They also generally ask for longer time commitments from volunteers.)
posted by ChuraChura at 5:52 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Look, there are a lot of problems with Evangelicals, but lack of willingness to adopt children of color in the US is not one of them. I don't believe in their theology, but their willingness to adopt the children that few other people are, in their belief that abortion is wrong and every unborn child should have a home found for them, is pretty serious. Most of the evangelicals I know with adopted children have at least one disabled child, and generally multiracial or children of color as well.
posted by corb at 8:52 AM on May 26 [+] [!]


This has not been my experience AT ALL in the Evangelical churches of my brother (suburb of Chicago) and my mother's family (rural Mississippi).

And you can find story after story of problematic adoptions in the Evangelical communities - the underground network of "rehoming" really does exist and it's really scary and wrong - along with stories told by adult adoptees of archaic strict discipline and constantly feeling as if they should be thankful that they were "saved" from their situations.

That's not to say that there aren't wonderful Evangelicals out there; there definitely are. But do not take your experience as gospel, as it were.
posted by cooker girl at 6:02 AM on May 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


Corb, not disputing that there are some Evangelical families that adopt "the children few other people want" and give them a decent home, but there are also many who keep taking in more and more children with serious medical and emotional problems than they can really handle, and the result is abuse and eventual "rehoming" to another ill-equipped family. Some recent cases of egregious abuse of children with disabilities have come out of religious homes with some warped views of what constitutes discipline and dealing with attachment problems, aided and abetted by"therapists" who advocate what amounts to torture to whip kids into obedience.

These homes become not so much families as totally unsupervised group homes once the adoptions are finalized, and are not looked at again until a child is found starved or beaten to death. These include both international adoptions and domestic adoptions of the children
nobody else wants to adopt, in some cases because people with a realistic view of the problems involved realize they are not capable of taking care of severely physically or mentally ill kids and do not keep adding more and more to their home thinking God will work it all out.
posted by mermayd at 6:19 AM on May 26, 2016 [12 favorites]


On a different trip to Kenya where we were studying Swahili, our professor got us volunteer opportunities at - yes - an orphanage/school, focused on rescuing, rehabilitating, and educating street kids. I loved hanging out with the kids at lunch and recess, and I was shadowing the math teacher who just had me grade student work for her. I was there for five days, and I have never felt as guilty as when I left. Just another one in a sea of white faces who come and make friends with kids and then disappear without making any sort of lasting impact.

Most short-term study abroad programs at the university level have this ethos as of late. I've been on 3 trips now where the trips included a visit to a school, an orphanage, a home for unwed mothers, etc. We brought items and money and "helped". It made me uncomfortable every time because a group of 19 year olds flailing around in a second grade classroom for an hour is not going to be helping anyone learn English. But "experiential learning" and "service learning" are hot topics in the educational system these days.

I wish I knew what could be done about it so that I could suggest a better model to my department heads. We do currently have a trip to El Salvador for Medical Spanish students, where they accompany a doctor on his/her hospital rounds, or even on their home calls. The students get tons of practice using their intake form vocabulary, and the doctor gets a free assistant for a week. This, I like.
posted by chainsofreedom at 6:49 AM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


I have never understood how well educated people, whether they are going from BYU in the US or through a school or charity organisation in the UK, can fail to do the math on this. The average person in Uganda earns $300USD per year. Depending on what Western country you fly from, your airfair to Uganda is anywhere from $600 to $1800 USD.

So, you could literally pay several Ugandan people to stand in a given village for you, build the same house or orphanage or well or whatever, AND support at least two families for an entire year just by forking your airfare over to a reputable organisation doing actual, community-entrenched work on the ground.

Of course, that would mean this entire exercise was not completely and totally about you.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:13 AM on May 26, 2016 [63 favorites]


(Realize that the articles talk about UK voluntourism in parts but am more familiar with the vast edifice of US voluntourism and I know EXACTLY where those particular problems come from.

It's not a million miles away, honestly - our Evangelical movement which is not quite the same as US evangelical Christianity but is closely linked and in conversation with it, and definitely includes 'missionary work' voluntourism plus that kind of "it says 'widows and orphans' right here, so literal widows and literal orphans it is!" approach. Plus, for many, the appeal of being a missionary in the Victorian striding-off-into-the-African-unknown-to-bring-Christianity-to-the-natives sense. (Which I think lies behind a lot of the secular voluntourism too - helping to fix your own community's problems are complicated and messy and systemic, but over there you can feed a meal to a hungry orphan child! And don't look too hard at the complicated, messy, systemic issues behind the curtain - you're feeding starving orphans, you are Doing Good Things.)

I don't want to doubt the good intentions of the people I know who've done that kind of work with their churches, and I don't know enough about the work they've done to say how useful or harmful it might have been. But. One of the things that our evangelical movement really, really likes is a kind of FAQ approach to theology, where any complex metaphysical or moral question can get boiled down to "what is the answer to X?" and the answer is something straightforward, definitive, and no longer than a paragraph. (This is my theory on some of the appeal behind the Alpha course, one of the biggest things about UK evangelical Christianity in the past few decades - Alpha is really, really "do you find reality complicated and distressing and confusing? Fear not, here are all the answers, in conclusive and soundbite-friendly form!") And I think there's a strong connection between that and the kind of understanding of charity work which is so damaging as outlined in these articles - never mind who's founding the orphanages, never mind who's doing due diligence of the charities being supported, never mind the research around the kind of care that best supports children in crisis situations, never mind the situations these children might actually be in and how it diverges from how you understand those situations - you've fed and hugged an orphan, so you have Done Good Charity, problem solved.
posted by Catseye at 7:32 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


Western Do-Gooders Need to Resist The Lure of Exotic Problems
Let’s pretend, for a moment, that you are a 22-year-old college student in Kampala, Uganda. You’re sitting in class and discreetly scrolling through Facebook on your phone. You see that there has been another mass shooting in the US, this time in a place called San Bernardino. You’ve never heard of it. You’ve never been to the US. But you’ve certainly heard a lot about the gun violence there. It seems like a new mass shooting happens every week.

You wonder if you could go there and get stricter gun legislation passed. You’d be a hero to the American people, a problem-solver, a lifesaver. How hard could it be? Maybe there’s a fellowship for high-minded people like you to go to the US after college and train as social entrepreneurs. You could start the nonprofit organisation that ends mass shootings, maybe even win a humanitarian award by the time you are 30.

If you’re young, and want a life of meaning, of course you’d be attracted to solving problems that seem readily solvable. Sound hopelessly naive? Maybe even a little deluded? It is. And yet, it’s not much different from how too many Americans think about social change in the global south.

[...]

...If you ask [a] 22-year-old American about some of the most pressing problems in a place like Uganda — rural hunger or girls’ secondary education or homophobia — she might see them as solvable. Maybe even easily solvable.

posted by OnceUponATime at 7:38 AM on May 26, 2016 [26 favorites]


My kiddo attended a daycare, that we liked quite a lot, but the owner took "mission trips" to, I think, Nigeria every few years to "help out" a village/villages. So once a year there was a giant TV screen running a DVD in the lobby with video of her previous trips and signs with appeals to donate. I never did.

Because I am a mean person, I would look at the pictures of this older woman surrounded by Nigerian kids, (who appeared to be relatively healthy/well-dressed, by the way) with her bright-color tshirt with a Bible verse on it, and wonder; what the fuck kind of help did they need from her? She was not young or in good shape; she was not doing construction work, I am sure. And whatever money she was giving, her own airfare/accommodations surely were eating into. What was she actually doing there? I know she was giving them some clothes/school supplies (which they may or may not have appreciated or needed) but mostly I think she was getting off on getting treated as a white savior by these people she saw as helpless and hapless. Of course, she didn't speak their language so it's entirely possible they were mocking her behind her back. But honestly, what must these folks think of Americans when we swoop in assuming they want our used clothing and platitudes?

It's gross. It's warmed-over 19th-century paternalistic missionary bullshit. But it's also fed by racist media narratives about Africa and poverty.
posted by emjaybee at 7:54 AM on May 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


YES. The other metric is: "Could I do this activity in my own country?"

Very few short-term international volunteers come from communities which would welcome foreigners with good intentions and little preparation or supervision turning up at their schools and child centers to play with children, paint buildings, etc. etc. It's not just a question of poverty, it's a deliberate targeting of countries that are 'easy' to volunteer in because they have weaker cvil society.

I don't think any more that these people have good intentions. They choose to act in shallow self interest with a gloss of charity over it, because it boosts their social status. This is not charity or development work. I've met so many people who do solid deep charity/development work - giving money thoughtfully, volunteering in partnerships, working on longterm changes.

We should be side-eyeing and shaming people for going on these trips. They should be seen as socially embarrassing and wrong. People shouldn't be able to get any kudos for going on these gap years. Schools should be shamed for organising these trips and churches should be hollared at to help other local churches and local missionaries instead.

These aren't naive sweet people accidentally winding up in a foreign country. People fundraise for trip costs, they get organised by for-profit voluntourism companies, and yet all that money and work skips completely over the actual needs of the partners.

Seriously. Don't be bystanders. Shame people who travel abroad to exploit poverty to feel good. SHAME THEM. STOP THEM.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:55 AM on May 26, 2016 [28 favorites]


and I am leaving this thread before I chew my hand off, but oh that was so good to say out loud. I really, really, really am so grateful to never have to be polite to another fucking voluntourist AGAIN.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:56 AM on May 26, 2016 [17 favorites]


This is a great FPP, and now if only people would wonder if this was also true of the foster care system in the States as well... (hint: it is) (it super, super is) (spend the money being spent on child welfare on cash support for families and see what happens to the "neglect" rate)
posted by peppercorn at 8:14 AM on May 26, 2016 [10 favorites]


Here's where I admit, as a clueless 22 year old, I went to one of the poorest countries in the world to live and work in an orphanage. I made a year-long commitment. How long did I actually stay? Four months.

One of my jobs was to manage the toddler house. They seriously put a 22 year old in charge of four "native" adult childcare workers who all had vast experience with children, particularly with raising the children of this country to grow up and live in this country. Me? Well, I'd babysat some neighbor kids a couple of times as a teenager.

I have plenty of stories but the straw that broke the camel's back was when I asked why the volunteers* (read: white people from rich countries) were fed so much better than the children. I was told it was because we were used to good food and would get sick without it. But the kids were used to eating nutritionally-lacking food, so it wouldn't be good for them to have better food.

Also, none of my fellow volunteers seemed to be bothered by the monthly Family Days in which the families of the "orphans" visited. These kids had families. Families that were forced into the horrible choice to give up their kids so that they could eat and have access to education (such as it was).

* Yes, we were considered volunteers even though my monthly stipend was more than the childcare workers I supervised made. And I received room and board while they did not.
posted by mcduff at 8:19 AM on May 26, 2016 [30 favorites]


I don't think any more that these people have good intentions. They choose to act in shallow self interest with a gloss of charity over it, because it boosts their social status.

I can totally see your point, but yet I look around this Southern conservative city and I know these evangelicals of which you speak. I work with them. They're my neighbors. And while I can't paint all of them with the same brush, I really think a majority truly believe they are genuinely helping and would be shocked, SHOCKED to learn otherwise.

On preview, mcduff's personal story is an example. I don't think the majority of these people set off with nefarious intentions. They're just sorely misguided and incredibly naïve.
posted by bologna on wry at 8:28 AM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I grew up in a wealthy rural very white town in Canada, and it felt like all the kids in my town would go on these types of trips. I wasn't from one of those wealthy families, and I was far too shy to ever think of going, but I always felt a sense of yuckiness at how fulfilled, special and even holy or sacred these kids seemed to feel when they got back. It also made the rest of us feel pretty lame.
It wasn't till many years later that I began to see that the smiles on their faces were bolstered by wealth, power and narcissism, not because they were touched by the hand of god. This was the beginning of my atheism.
posted by winterportage at 8:34 AM on May 26, 2016 [7 favorites]


OK. I have more to say.

A few weeks ago I was in a taxi and the driver was from the country that I'd volunteered in. We were talking about the politics of this country and the impact that foreigners had on it. When I admited that I'd worked in an orphanage, he very politely thanked me for helping the kids in his country.

But when we got further into the conversation and I explained how I thought I'd done more harm than good and I thought the whole system was detrimental to the children and his country, he vehemently agreed with me.

The fact that he felt the need to stroke my (white, privileged) ego by thanking me made me so sad. Not only do these volunteers force people to take their (unneeded, detrimental) "help," they require that they be thanked for it.

Yuck.
posted by mcduff at 8:37 AM on May 26, 2016 [39 favorites]


I don't think the majority of these people set off with nefarious intentions.

That this is true is the root of the problem and the reason for the article. Many of our most persistent problems are difficult to solve because they are not dependent on the intentions of individuals, and are instead held in place by institutions and systems. Racism, sexism, and heteronormativity persist even when most people are not themselves prejudiced. Our individual positive intentions always play out in a context that has already been established by racism, sexism, classism, etc. This means that self-awareness is not a sufficient guide to our actions, because it can lead to the kind of well-meaning but ultimately harmful behavior described in this article. Understanding the interlocking systems of oppression that color our world and remaining vigilant against them is hard work. It's both unfortunate and understandable that many of us (including me) either have trouble with it or fail to make an attempt.
posted by cubby at 8:59 AM on May 26, 2016 [49 favorites]


cubby, I wish I could favorite that comment 800 times.

Really, really well said.
posted by bologna on wry at 9:14 AM on May 26, 2016


Evangelicals generally prefer to adopt their children of color from other countries for several reasons, and all of them are gross. First, black children from Africa won't have a "thug culture" heritage (American black kids, when they do end up in fundamentalist families, are generally even lower class citizens than other kids, because they probably won't "overcome" their "nature" no matter how much you pray) to deal with so the parents can make up a savior narrative so the child can be raised to be grateful for anything they get. Secondly, Christianizing Africa (India/China/Etc). Thirdly, passing the income/criminal/sanity/health checks for US foster and adoption is a hurdle, so it's generally easier to collect donations and pay to end-run any sort of regulations, and this gets you a kid from an extra-credit country anyway.

lack of willingness to adopt children of color

It's white supremacist narrative to give all these cookies to white people for adopting nonwhite children. Transracial adoption, it's turning out, is not actually great for the kids.

Adoption is actually not all that great for kids - just like the people quoted in all the articles (and the ones with experience commenting here) say, keeping the children in the community and supporting extended family to care locally for the children, most of whom aren't actually orphans so much as the parents have a situation (hint: it's often either health or the need to go away to work/unable to work and obtain child care, two issues that could also be dealt with locally with more support) that requires temporary intervention.

This is true in Africa and in the US. Like peppercorn just said, most of the kids in "the system" in the US would have a safe, personally-connected place to go if there was support for caretakers (and also maybe if we didn't put so many parents in prison for profit?). Should there be physical places where a child can safely stay, the sort of place that 100 years ago would have been called an orphanage? Yep, they are generally called homeless shelters now. There's still a few gaps that need filling, for the few children who truly have nowhere to go no matter what resources could be provided, and maybe assisted living situations for when children and/or parents/caretakers are severely disabled.

None of this negates the good intentions of the families, even when those good intentions are hugely racist. But accidentally participating in human trafficking is still bad, and it's still mostly racism standing in the way of education and regulation.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:16 AM on May 26, 2016 [13 favorites]


I think we as a civilization really need to figure out _good_ ways to harness the fundamental, incredibly powerful desire to _nurture_ and _protect_ that we have.
posted by amtho at 9:32 AM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I think we as a civilization really need to figure out _good_ ways to harness the fundamental, incredibly powerful desire to _nurture_ and _protect_ that we have."

I think it is more of:

"I think we as a civilization really need to figure out _less harmful_ ways to harness the fundamental, incredibly powerful desire to _have some feel grateful to us for doing very little_ that we have."

Because, yes, we want to nurture but if it was just to nurture, we'd be happy nurturing anyone. But we're not nurturing anyone. We want our work to create instant change and instant good feelings...in us.
posted by jeanmari at 10:24 AM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


even when those good intentions are hugely racist

Speaking of which, there's a book called Paved with Good Intentions which talks about Canadian NGO's and how they don't actually help economically empower 'third world" countries.
posted by winterportage at 10:25 AM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


Because, yes, we want to nurture but if it was just to nurture, we'd be happy nurturing anyone. But we're not nurturing anyone. We want our work to create instant change and instant good feelings...in us.

We want to nurture so much that we have animal lovers in trouble for taking in too many animals, a huuuge pet industry, and these messed up charities. It's really difficult to find an outlet for this drive that's publically acceptable and actually helpful. How many single people, or attached people, even have close friends with children? If you wanted to volunteer to help out with kids, or help another adult, how could you do that and have it not just be a source of pain or too overwhelming to keep the rest of your life going? If you _wanted_ to direct your efforts to some difficult problems in the US, how would you do that in a way that doesn't leave you feeling used?

This fundamental human drive could do a world of good if we can just figure out how best to direct it.
posted by amtho at 11:51 AM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you _wanted_ to direct your efforts to some difficult problems in the US, how would you do that in a way that doesn't leave you feeling used?

In a way I think you have to just get used to feeling used. I read an article in Everyday Feminism, (can't find it right now), that mentions that you don't get to collect rewards for helping oppressed people. It has do be a form of service that may not necessarily give you a nice feeling inside but that you continue to do by a sense of duty. Which is why it's so difficult. It's natural to avoid doing things that feel horrible. But I guess it's a matter of knowing why you're doing it and being dedicated enough to continue regardless of whether you feel rewarded. Maybe its a matter of thinking that justice is its own reward
posted by winterportage at 12:51 PM on May 26, 2016 [2 favorites]


"It has do be a form of service that may not necessarily give you a nice feeling inside but that you continue to do by a sense of duty. " < Oppressed and poor people are not there to serve as your vehicle for feeling good.

This is what makes me so freaking frustrated. People want to care for (well behaved) animals and children because there is no downside, no unpleasantness. But that is not what true "caring for" is about if it is about the other being.
posted by jeanmari at 1:02 PM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have a friend who lives in Haiti (is Haitian) and started an orphanage with his mother after the earthquake. It started out with taking in a couple of kids whose families died in the quake, and as the situation in Haiti deteriorated over the next couple of years, turned into a full-on orphanage with about a dozen kids. He and I have talked about it quite a bit and it seems like it really is necessary - there are so few resources for children or families in Haiti right now that the alternative is not extended family but the streets. And of course it would be better if there were more of a support system, but that is going to take years to establish in a city that is still in disaster mode.

So I guess I'm reluctant to agree that orphanages are never the answer, though it really does seem like they very rarely are. But I guess this is maybe more like the group homes people are talking about in this thread? The kids live in my friend's home and go to the local school.

One thing that does strike me - my friend and his mother are NOT trying to get the kids adopted out, especially not internationally.
posted by lunasol at 1:14 PM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


People will put up with a _lot_ of unpleasantness, heartbreak, pain, and obstacles if they can see the happiness they cause in others. But expecting them to go through all that with no real human connection may be a bit much.
posted by amtho at 1:14 PM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


On the topic of volontourism and privilege: a friend and I, both from middle-class white backgrounds, were talking recently about how all the things kids are supposed to get from these experiences - exposure to people who are "less fortunate," understanding of our own privilege - we both got from minimum-wage summer jobs we had CVS (drugstore chain) in lower-income areas in high school.

But of course the big difference was that I didn't get to be a white savior in this situation. I was just another unskilled 17-year-old making minimum wage and dealing with an asshole boss. The whole situation wasn't set up for my enrichment, but I think that actually shaped me more than any of my travel in developing countries has.
posted by lunasol at 1:21 PM on May 26, 2016 [18 favorites]


It's just so hard to do anything with untrained temp labor, especially since people's availability for volunteering is subject to chance, leading to fickle schedules and high turnover. It's hard to exploit that kind of labor effectively whether you're paying for it or not.

I think there are some interesting examples from World War II.... Scrap metal drives. Victory gardens. Knit socks for our soldiers. Care packages. A lot of these efforts "on the homefront" that took advantage of people's desire to do something selfless, in a way that didn't make anyone directly dependent on that kind of unreliable good will and casual labor for anything critical. Probably some people in Uganda would like new socks? And they can be made at home, in people's spare time, and then maybe presented in person at the hotel/convention center I was imagining in my earlier comment, if those people want... Because I do think it's valuable for privileged people to see how others live, which will probably motivate them to donate more for decades afterwards... And because the locals can sell them souvenirs as well as hotel service.

I don't think there's much point in thinking about what could be done with all the money those plane tickets are worth if only people were more rational about their giving. That's not how human being work.

It's more like "how can we get the good that comes of people emotionally investing in the wellbeing other people less fortunate than them, without the harm that comes from putting untrained, unreliable labor in the critical path for important work?"
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:41 PM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


A cousin of mine grew up in the evangelical Christian subculture, and as a young adult, she has gone on a couple of mission trips to Haiti (and IIRC, she helped to build an orphanage there). I get what all of you are saying about the selfish gratification of such endeavors, but at the same time, seeing the poverty and other problems there--and meeting and helping individual Haitians--has changed her in some significant ways. She is more generous and more aware of her own privilege and of how differently others live from her. I'm pretty sure she never would have had such experiences otherwise.

Although in the short-term it seems like a big waste of resources to spend thousands of dollars to send this marginally-helpful woman from the US to Haiti to help build an orphanage, I think the long-term investment might be worth it as over the course of her life she will surely give more of her own resources to the less fortunate than she would have otherwise. I've made it my mission to present the idea to her that in the future, she could better serve the less fortunate by sending her money in her stead.

It's a complicated issue.
posted by tippiedog at 1:47 PM on May 26, 2016 [3 favorites]


For suitable background to the continuing problems of missionary work, try The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. It's the story of a family going to the Belgian Congo in 1959 because the father wishes to "save the heathen." Mother and the four daughters aren't so sure it's a good idea. All five voices are given their say. Enthralling.
posted by MovableBookLady at 3:03 PM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


I'm just going to put this here. If you want an enriching experience that gives you insight into your privilege, that is super great. Please don't do it by giving strangers drive-by access to vulnerable children with attachment issues.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/midwest/ct-kenya-orphans-child-abuse-20160307-story.html
posted by jeanmari at 3:44 PM on May 26, 2016 [4 favorites]


> But I guess it's a matter of knowing why you're doing it and being dedicated enough to continue regardless of whether you feel rewarded. Maybe its a matter of thinking that justice is its own reward

winterportage, Immanuel Kant would agree 100% with you, re: the categorical imperative. By deriving this kind of satisfaction from doing this kind of 'messianic' (/narcissistic) work, one thus invalidates any moral good from one's deeds.
posted by porpoise at 4:12 PM on May 26, 2016 [1 favorite]


The US Christian fascination with orphanages in Africa was never about helping children so much as about "Christianizing Africa".

Which I find doubly hilarious as vast swathes of Africa are far, far more Christian than the US will ever be.

It felt very much like I was assuaging my guilt rather than providing any actual benefit to anyone.

Yeah, I agree. I have loved, loved my time in Namibia and Kenya, but it was hard, and in the latter case where I wasn't just holidaying but working and mixing with the elite - both native and expat - I felt very uncomfortable at many times, and an amount of my disgust, disappointment, cynicism etc was directed inwards.

Those feelings are confrontational, and unpleasant. Because you are never more starkly aware of the gross inequality of the world, nor confronted by the literal reality that your prosperity has come at the expense of millions, generational exploitation, then when you are mixing it up in a developing country. Especially one so staggeringly corrupt as Kenya.

I mean it's obscene, and indefensible. The very act me travelling to Africa from Australia is preposterous. So you're already at this colossal ethical imbalance and any attempt to address will come up short no matter what you try. Any global citizen with a skerrick of conscience, or history, or self awareness, will I think experience these feelings. And you want to resolve them, acknowledge then and get away from them if you can.

Something I think missing from this discussion is how this takes place on a continuum, and whilst the lines can very bright on metafilter, it's can be much harder when you're trying to do some good. Eco/volun tourism blurs this line heavily. Lots of companies and people make money blurring this line, and some of them do a lot of genuine good blurring this line.

Remember the very act of being in these places is often a product of gross inequality and murky ethics. Tracking the "good" you deliver is like trying to find a shard of obsidian in a lake of ink, and there are lots of lies, misinfornation and people distorting things.

I tend to view the omnipresent feelings of discomfort and disguised self loathing that hasveoften accompanied me in Africa like a kind of departure tax. That's the unavoidable price I pay for going and is a very small one on multiple levels. Guilty westerners are such a cliché, but we should feel guilty. Attempts at absolution are as futile as they are unfair, but the doesn't mean reparations in one form or another should be denied.

I think criticism and constant scrutiny of Western presence in developing countries is required, and honestly if it starts to feel too good or like it's really making a difference take a step back and apply some more scrutiny etc. I think vague unease and or discomfort should always be a feeling for westerners giving in Africa. Not necessarily the feeling, but it should be in the mix.

Apologies if this is garbled, I'm on my phone and at work. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the broader issue here.
posted by smoke at 5:58 PM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]


People in the developing world don't exist to change the lives of heretofore thoughtless, sheltered, or otherwise newly inspired and awakened westerners. Broadening the mind and experiences is an important part of travel, and pretty much unavoidable when you're traveling in the developing world, but you can't use other peoples' lives as a backdrop for your own awakening.

If one more person tells me, "It was so inspiring! They have nothing, but they're just the happiest people," upon their return from "Africa" or Haiti, I will explode.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:20 PM on May 26, 2016 [10 favorites]




People who actually want to voluntarily wade into helping people in desperate need can reach those people in less than half an hour, but the local homeless are just so icky, your friends don't even want to see your selfies with them.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:06 PM on May 26, 2016 [8 favorites]


If one more person tells me, "It was so inspiring! They have nothing, but they're just the happiest people," upon their return from "Africa" or Haiti, I will explode.

That phrase, and "Life is just so simple there!" are like nails on a chalkboard for me.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:22 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


Their childhoods cannot be traded for your friend's moral education. No matter how much money she might later donate.

Wouldn't it be great if we could figure out some way to get the moral education and donations without hurting any children, though? Do you think there is any way?

For sure "volunteer at the local homeless shelter" is a good one, but surely the "moral education" a privileged young person gets in a developing country covers a different curriculum... And after all those privileged young people are voters who can help shape the economic and military policies of the US. They often grow up to hold positions of some polical or economic power over people in other countries. And those stories on Facebook influence their friends, who are also voters and also grow up to be business leaders and government agency employees sometimes.

And there are some problems with volunteering even when it's local. Homeless shelters are overwhelmed with volunteers on holidays and then face shortages when they actually need people. Other young people try to help locally by enrolling in something like Teach for America, and we've had a few threads about the problems with that. American children can also have their childhoods damaged by well-meaning idealists who didn't know what they were getting into and can't or won't stick around long term.

I really think there's a larger issue with volunteer labor being apt to do more harm than good in general... but still being valuable mostly for its effects on the volunteer. And those are not meaningless, because volunteers and their friends are also donors and voters.

What do we do with these noble human instincts that seem to be so dangerous if not carefully channeled? It seems like altruism is as dangerous and powerful as nuclear energy... Are there safe-handling protocols for it that allow us to use that power without a huge risk of horrible unintended consequences?
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:26 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


People of my acquaintance who do this kind of volunteering, on gap years or whatever, need to be of service and have successful human interactions. I believe this is a real need and if it could be fulfilled in a genuine way, it would help everyone. But if it's based on the volunteers having more money than everyone else, and especially when it happens right at the beginning of their working lives, it's toxic. This is the kind of thing that make me wish we had a really democratic form of national service where everyone would have to work in eldercare, literacy, homeless services, and would work alongside people at other levels of affluence.
posted by BibiRose at 5:32 AM on May 27, 2016 [3 favorites]


(And we've also had some threads on the dangers of misapplied aid money -- which some of the FPP articles also talk about, eg "Play Pump" and other "Stuff we don't want"... So the problem is not just voluntourism, and it's not fixed just by saying "send money instead of coming over to volunteer." The money can also be harmful if not well spent. There are some fundamental problems here with trying to "help" by whatever means when you don't fully understand the problems, and when your "help" cannot be relied on long term. But surely we want to better harness those impulses rather than shutting them down... if possible?)
posted by OnceUponATime at 5:34 AM on May 27, 2016


> Wouldn't it be great if we could figure out some way to get the moral education and donations without hurting any children, though? Do you think there is any way?

There must be, because there are so very many people who have acquired this education without going to a foreign country to help-not-really "orphans." People acquire it in a large variety of ways: there is not only one way of getting there.
posted by rtha at 5:41 AM on May 27, 2016 [4 favorites]


No, but I think it almost always takes some powerful experiences to overcome tribalism. The question I have is how to give people those experiences without harming anyone. Obviously orphanges are NOT the way to do that. But they're also NOT the only harmful version of altruism. So I'm just wondering how people who want to help can be allowed to so without hurting anyone...

As a kid I participated in a program called "People to People," which was explicitly tourism with the purpose of developing intercultural understanding, with the goal of reducing international conflict. The trip included a short homestay with a family in Denmark (!). The Peace Corps was established with a similar mission. Are either of those good models?

I know someone who volunteered with an organization called Sustainable Roots in Ecuador. They teach English, establish greenhouses and community gardens, and run a community radio station. Is that a good model? That person now works for a homeless shelter run by Catholic Charities in the US. Is that a good model? (I bet there are a lpt of people on MeFi who can explain the issues with Catholic shelters and hospitals both in the US and abroad, but I'm not sure it's clear the world would be better off if they didn't exist...)

I know someone in the business world who was in charge of a contract that had been given to a call center in Jamaica. The call center work was outsourced there from the US by a previous manager. The Jamaicans were glad to have jobs, but they weren't very good at them, partly because of the cultural differences with their US customers... Customer satisfaction wss low. The person I know decided to go back to using a US based call center, but was haunted by the visions of grinding poverty he'd seen when visiting Jamaica and the knowledge that he was almost certainly returning some people to that. That was part of his moral education. Is that "private enterprise" version of international development better?

I think we've got consensus in this thread that these orphanages are bad and wrong. But I'm beginning to be worried that maybe MOST attempts at altruism (or even just not-isolationism) will backfire... But surely the end if we don't make any attempts is also very bad, with no checks on tribalism and inequality, leading to even more war and segregation.
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:18 AM on May 27, 2016


(A better People to People link.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:50 AM on May 27, 2016


The Peace Corps was established with a similar mission. Are either of those good models?

There is a lot that is both good and bad about the Peace Corps. On the good side is at least a certain amount of realism about the impacts volunteers will have, with development being only one third of the mission. But it's also a government program (from the age of expansive government) meant to promote America, which it does quite effectively, and there has been a lot of attention in recent years to problems with safety and support.

On top of that, it is a rather expensive program on a per-volunteer basis because it takes a lot of infrastructure to support the work, and it is not something that could be vastly scaled up -- there just isn't a huge surplus of people willing to commit to two years abroad, and there are already issues of retention and support at current levels. They currently have about 7,000 volunteers in the field, and while I could see doubling that number, it would still be a drop in the bucket overall, and not something that would impact the question of short term voluntourism like the article is discussing.

I have never seen a model for short term volunteering or voluntourism that is outstanding, but somewhere it must exist, and it would be great for there to develop a set of best practices and ethical standards for the industry.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on May 27, 2016 [1 favorite]


Someone posted this in my Twitter feed today, and I felt it was relevant to this conversation about when is helping about others? Or about yourself?

https://twitter.com/mattdpearce/status/736716915272384513

Here’s how I see it: Empathy is the ability to respect and maybe even understand another’s point of view, revealing larger truths about ourselves and others. Exploitation is the use of another’s experience for personal gain. Empathy requires self-awareness. Exploitation is marked by self-interest. Empathy is about deepening connections. Exploitation, about filling one’s pockets, literal or figurative.

- Anna Holmes
posted by jeanmari at 6:34 PM on May 28, 2016 [1 favorite]


Maybe the real problem is that charities seek to patch a hole caused by an exploitative system rather than fixing that system. Can we recruit volunteers for systemic reform of capitalism?
posted by emjaybee at 12:19 PM on May 29, 2016


is not something that could be vastly scaled up -- there just isn't a huge surplus of people willing to commit to two years abroad, and there are already issues of retention and support at current levels.

I believe only about 20-25% of Peace Corps applicants are accepted, and rates of applications have soared in the last few years. Now I'm sure a lot of applicants are not suitable, and you're right that the model requires a lot of support staff and infrastructure that makes it hard to scale up, but I do think this shows that a lot of people want to do this.

However, from what I've read Peace Corps suffers from a lot of the same voluntourism problems. Additionally, when I was going through the application process about a decade ago (I wound up not going), there was definitely an icky imperialist undertone to a lot of the recruitment. At my info session, one the attendees asked how a volunteer without any technical skills could be useful and the recruiter was basically like, "by virtue of being from the US, you have so much to share with people who aren't!" Which, no.
posted by lunasol at 10:33 PM on May 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


And another new article related to this subject:

Want to Help Haiti? Act Like a Tourist

The mission trip groups pour into Haiti's Port-au-Prince airport each week, adorned in colorful matching T-shirts identifying their causes. They've come to this mountainous island - plagued in recent years by earthquakes, cholera and political unrest - to hand out food, paint houses and even perform eye surgery.

They are here to help. But the groups often avoid a crucial component of stimulating the Haitian economy: spending money. Typically, the groups stay within a mission campus, sleep in bunk dorms, eat food they brought and work on their project, rarely venturing out to taste the island nation's cuisine and explore its culture.

posted by jeanmari at 7:24 PM on May 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


But the groups often avoid a crucial component of stimulating the Haitian economy: spending money.

This is about the only form of tourism I think is appropriate: actual tourism. It's not feasible in the early stages of recovery, but there are plenty of "inspiring" places you can go and stay in a local hotel and hire a local driver and guide, pay to eat in people's homes if there aren't restaurants, buy the things they make, pay them to educate you in their history and culture and agriculture and sport. It may not be fancy and it may be not terribly comfortable, but neither are these "mission" accommodations (which I suspect are putting cash in the pockets of church-affiliated mission packagers in the US more than anyone on the ground at the destination).

If the community has the resources to package that sort of thing up for college students or church groups, that's great. The college students or church groups can go and shut their white savior mouths and be enlightened by receiving education rather than giving it, and put their money in the pockets of the locals all the while.

Most people have a weird kneejerk reaction to being a tourist, even though we do it all the time. But it's how places make money, even places that have other industry spend money on things that tourists like. Your local community doesn't have that RandomThing Museum just to give all your elementary school kids a field trip to go on. That convention center isn't just for the county fair, it's to bring in that fat National Association of Sewage Treatment Professionals Convention money, and to get the sewage contract you have to have hotels at three price points within walking distance, and then you gotta have a charming restaurant district and then a zoo, so they bring the family and kids, plus a couple strip clubs out on the county line for those who like to partake when away from home, etc etc. There's nothing wrong with attracting tourists or being attracted as a tourist to those places.

(Obviously there can be individual things wrong, but it's not a failing to have nice places to go and things to do. There's no valor - there's not even hipster points - in saying "We're going on vacation to Pisswaddle, New Mexico, where there's nothing to do but sleep in a closed truck stop parking lot! We're gonna stare at the dumpster for a week!")

Going to San Diego to visit the zoo and Legoland is not all that different, from a "tourism" standpoint, as going Malawi or rural Mexico, the only difference is scale and whose pockets that money is going into.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:05 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes alot of people are voluntourisming and coming back feeling really great about how they helped people and aren't I such a good person now and those poor people. I know a couple of people who did this. One is my aunt who is the sweetest nicest person that has ever lived. She recently went to Haiti to help. She really enjoys helping others and volunteers in her community as well. I hope that whatever she did in Haiti really did help, but after all this, I doubt it.

I also have a cousin, who was the most stuck-up snobby brat I had ever met. She went to South America one summer in high school to build houses. She came back absolutely appreciating how well off and lucky she was and turned into this awesome person who doesn't think she's better than everyone just because her parents have money. Not that someone else's life should be used to help rich kids not be snobby brats, but if all the rich kids learned this lesson, it might not be a bad idea to send them all somewhere (including the US!) to do a bunch of manual labor for a bit.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:07 AM on May 31, 2016


I got sent this Child Protection in Short-Term Missions Manual and Toolkit related to work and it is pretty much everything I would want to say and much more about volunteering internationally. It's written for and by Christians, and very new (May 2016) - a secularised version would be helpful for a wider cross-religious reach - but there's so much that talks thoughtfully and with clarity about social justice and partnership and learning and children's rights and - yes.

Very, very worth reading and sharing with anyone you know who's thinking of volunteering abroad. ACCI who helped make it are Australian.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:59 PM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


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