We can’t hide behind the excuse of voluntourism to avoid helping others out.
Back in June, Martyna wrote about the phenomenon of voluntourism and how it was doing more harm than good in the world of human trafficking. The practice involves orphanages in developing countries removing children from their families in order to attract Western volunteers. The volunteers will often pay the orphanage to stay and take care of the children, but once the volunteers leave the children are forced into sub-par living conditions. All this effectively results in more children being put into a life of slavery, which is the opposite of what the volunteers aim to do.
The issue of voluntourism has become so big that Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling, even took to twitter to voice her disapproval. Rightfully so, Rowling states that “these children and these countries need social care and health systems that keep families together.”
However, the condemnation of voluntourism has had an unfortunate adverse effect in the battle against human trafficking, and that is the denunciation of all forms of volunteering.
We have seen this denunciation increase over the past few months and many of the conversations that we are involved in end up revolving around the question: “isn’t volunteering a waste of time?”
The answer to this question depends on one thing: you.
As explained above, we don’t need more people involved in industries that effectively create human trafficking. There’s enough of that going on in the world. What we do need is people who can put their skills to use to help fight human trafficking.
So how do you fall into the latter category instead of unintentionally enabling human traffickers?
The first step is research: you can’t help fix a problem if you don’t understand what the problem is. This goes beyond a simple understanding of the existence of a problem, you have to know how the problem effects its victims and what the cause or causes of the problem are. In the world of human trafficking, there are a number of different factors that contribute to the problem and these can vary depending on which part of the world you want to go to to help out. Our team has experience in a number of different areas and are always happy to help point people in the right direction, but you should also consult big NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International.
The second step is an honest assessment of your own skills. The general rule is: if you’re not qualified to do the job at home, don’t volunteer for it overseas. As a person who has extensive legal training, I make sure that wherever I go I can put those skills to use. However, I would never put my hand up for a construction position or a teaching position, simply because I have no training in them whatsoever and if I tried to do them in Australia, I would hope to be sued pretty quick. But an astounding number of volunteers think that they will be able to do the skilled work of another industry in developing countries because the standard of work will be lower. The truth is, it is the opposite: the standard is so much higher because you do not have access to the resources you would have back home and, most of the time, you will be dealing with non-English speakers. I can safely say that the legal work I’ve done in developing countries has been the most difficult, and I would expect other volunteers from other industries to say similar things.
The third consideration is of the task you’re applying for, and whether that task will have lasting positive effects after you leave. This can be difficult to judge beforehand, but a good way to think of it is whether or not you will leave the community you are going to with skills that they wouldn’t have had without your volunteering, and whether they can apply those skills long after you leave. For teachers looking to volunteer, the easiest example is teaching English to younger children, as that is a skill that they will use for life. Sustainable building projects are also very important, particularly if they enable access to clean water or protection from storms.
As Westerners, the majority of us live a pretty privileged life and we owe it to those less fortunate to help them out where we can. Volunteering has some dangers, and it is a lot to ask of some people to step out of their comfort circle. But we can’t hide behind the excuse of voluntourism to avoid helping others out. Yes, we need to avoid voluntourism such as that in the orphan industry, but there are countless other organisations who are doing good in the world, and they need our help.