‘Volunteer’ trips are a waste of time and money

Sorry, but your new profile picture of you standing next to an impoverished child from a third world country doesn’t fix anything; it just makes you look ignorant.

So you’ve signed up through your local church or other feel-good organization to travel to a third world country to dig wells, build shacks, and volunteer with the local hospital. Unfortunately, you are participating in an immense waste of everyone’s time, money, and resources, and no one’s quality of life has significantly benefited because of it (except for the personal satisfaction you most certainly received when the Facebook photo you posted feeding the toddler from Haiti hit the one hundred like threshold).

Unless you are a technical expert in your field, such as a surgeon, physician, nurse, psychologist, contractor, priest/pastor, agricultural biologist, nutritionist, etc., you have absolutely no business being there with the primary goal of positively influencing lives. The difference between skilled and unskilled labor is even more obvious and potentially detrimental in these countries as opposed to your hometown.

That $3,000 dollars that you raised to afford your trip by going door to door and calling your well-to-do aunt in Aspen could be spent more effectively in efforts to actually enact change and do good in struggling countries and communities throughout the world.

The amount of resources squandered in an effort to arrive in said impoverished country is grossly disproportionate to the resources you personally and collectively as a group have to offer any group of individuals.

Upon conclusion of some personal research, I found that the annual salary of a full-time physician in the country of Haiti is $5,373.13 USD. Your plane ticket, lodging, food, miscellaneous expenses, and the cost of the “humanitarian” trip itself would roughly equal the cost of employing a full-time physician for one full year. Not convinced? Do some research for yourself, and this time take a look at other popular “volunteer” destinations.

Volunteer trips in the United States are a multi-billion dollar industry. Please don’t tell me that every individual’s collective time spent volunteering overseas is worth even a fraction of several billion dollars.

There are numerous legitimate organizations that can properly and effectively administer aid and help to developing and impoverished countries such as Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, and The Peace Corps.

In addition to ineffectively or unethically using resources and funds, many of these mission trips create a state of dependency and reliance upon foreign aid. The focus of various volunteer organizations is on short-term solutions to long-term and terminal problems, for example, economic disparity and lack of access to proper healthcare. This dependance upon volunteer organizations in turn creates what scholars refer to as the “Western Savior Complex,” similar to the “White Man’s Burden,” that I’m sure many of you have studied in your religion courses. The Western Savior Complex essentially boils down to the philosophy that as many eastern and impoverished countries have developed, western society is superior and required for economic, cultural, and social growth.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that you want to help; I wish there were more people who shared a similar philosophy. However, you’re just helping in a horribly in-effective manner. To truly promote and further economic freedom, social liberty and independence, there are more effective ways of promoting such values. You as the reader should be naturally skeptical of anything you read. As liberal arts students you are taught to find flaws in arguments and offer alternative perspectives, so I suggest you do some research for yourself. CNN, Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, NPR, MPR, Newsweek, Forbes, Huffington Post, MSNBC, and Harvard all have some great articles and research echoing my words above.

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    My eyes were opened in this article: what a great insight into human nature and how we steer our bodies into the limelight. I agree that money can be used to help in other ways. There are certainly plenty of opportunities to volunteer close to home. Maybe this is why admissions officers never want to hear about mission trips. Your voice in writing is so enjoyable to read.

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for your words, appreciate the feedback and your response as a whole. A cultural shift in perception would be optimal; but in the mean time the facts speak for themselves. Giving ones time and energy to social efforts is wonderful and commendable, however there are more effective manners of doing so!

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