To celebrate Student Volunteering Week, we’ll be releasing a blog every day this week written by one of your Student Volunteering Ambassadors! Second up is Joshua Akinpelu, a second year BSc Accounting and Finance student, who is exploring voluntourism to get the conversation started ahead of Thursday’s event. We’ll be screening the film, The Voluntourist, followed by an open discussion and of course accompanied by pizza at 6pm. If you want to get involved with Student Volunteering Week this week, check out all the events on this other blog.

There’s an account on Instagram called “Barbie Saviour”. One post depicts Barbie squatting over a hole in the groundThe caption reads:

“Did you know that 112% of the people living in the country of Africa don’t have access to toilets? This is the reality for 112% of Africans today”

 Another post pictures Barbie holding a dark-skinned baby. The caption is only slightly less sardonic:

“Orphans take the best pictures!”

The account pays tribute to the kind of voluntourism many are critical of today. Volunteering abroad has simply become an emotional experience, an opportunity for the volunteer to state their sentimental cravings and accumulate a few Instagram likes in the process.

With an estimated 1.6 million people volunteering overseas a year, it is hard to believe everyone involved has purely altruistic intentions. A quick search on Instagram reveals a mass of distasteful imagery not unlike that found on the “Barbie Saviour” Instagram account. Visiting a hospital or orphanage, taking pictures of children you’ve never met and putting them on your Instagram feed feels dystopian and yet seems not to be uncommon practice.

It is important to make an impact and contribute positively to the global community but often ‘voluntourists’ do more harm than good. Assigned menial labour, they crowd out existing community craftsmen and create unsustainable infrastructure. The Human Sciences Research Council reported the condition of orphans in South Africa was being presented as more severe to encourage financial aid, a troubling notion for a seemingly altruistic act.

Voluntourism is the perfect example of ‘warm-glow’ altruism: the act of giving to experience the joy and satisfaction of ‘doing your part’ with little thought to the overall impact of your contribution. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of orphanages in Cambodia rose by 60% fuelled by ‘Orphanage tourism’. The growth contradicts declining poverty rates and falling numbers of genuine orphans over the same decade according to Friends International’s Cambodian communications coordinator. With little regard for the impacts of our volunteering efforts, we can turn something selfless into an act of self-servitude.

The act of voluntourism appears self-serving and myopic but it can be done right. Taking a step back to consider the underlying issues that affect these areas and getting involved with long term projects that address these issues while respecting a community’s culture, values and ethics is a great way to make a positive impact on the global community.

If we’ve inspired you to volunteer, check out one of our other 200+ ongoing opportunities or book a one-to-one with David Coles, the Volunteer Centre Manager if you have more questions. If you are short on time, then take a look at the one-off opportunities that will return for Michaelmas Term 2019, organised by the LSE Volunteer Centre. And why not follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram to stay up-to-date with our events and opportunities and read our blog for more volunteering tips and stories.

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