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People want to participate in philanthropy. It makes sense; you see an injustice or someone struggling and you want to help them. All over the world, people face hardships. In some places, poverty and natural disasters are so harmful that millions of people are affected and need immediate aid. Sometimes, an area is simply downtrodden and could benefit from certain supplies or some kind of other assistance. In order to serve these needs, many people travel outside of the United States to help out in foreign countries; this trend is often called voluntourism. It’s a pastime that’s grown significantly in the last few years, especially amongst younger people, even though traveling to other countries to provide aid is not a novel concept.

Different types of voluntourism

Usually, this term applies to young adults going on missions trips or with a specific organization to a foreign country to help out with something, such as babysitting, providing needed items, or helping to construct buildings. However, I’d like to also apply the term to other types of philanthropic travel, such as Doctors Without Borders or those who travel to give aid after a natural disaster strikes. Sometimes, people do not even leave the United States for voluntourism.

There are many ways you can go about volunteering in another country or far away in your own country; maybe you live there for a study abroad program and are involved with a local charity or maybe a recent natural disaster struck an area and you went to provide emergency medical assistance. Many people go with a school program or youth group for a matter of a couple of weeks and help locals with smaller scale tasks and then leave. You can provide philanthropy in another country for a few hours, days, or even a few years in some cases. The types of voluntourism are as different as the people participating in them; people of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels.

Is it a good or bad thing?

There are a lot of heated arguments on this topic. Some people feel that no good can come from it while others are voluntourism’s ardent defenders. In my opinion, it can be a good and a bad thing, depending on how you do it and what organization you go through. A major issue is that many people go through a third party organization that sends people with limited training to help communities that seriously need resources. These third parties then pocket the money westerners pay to travel to the country instead of using it to help out the community.

Some people go on these voluntourism trips in order to add it to their resume, not actually caring whether they help the local people. Other people have virtually no training regarding the job they’ll be doing (such as erecting a building or helping in a school) and do not understand the local culture at all. In these instances, voluntourism can cause more harm than good.
If you have the proper training, such as a doctor who’s traveling to another country to help vaccinate or provide treatment for a preventable disease, this type of philanthropy is beneficial. If you’re going on a mission trip, but take time to educate yourself about the local culture and do not view what you’re doing as a vacation, voluntourism can be good. Do your research on the organization that’s sending you. If you are a responsible person, do your homework, and travel with the right mindset, traveling for philanthropy can be a good thing. However, it’s important that you’re aware of the issues that go along with it and do your best to educate yourself and others on how to avoid these pitfalls.