Say No to Voluntourism

Anyone on a flight from the United States to Haiti this summer might be struck, as I was in July, by the sheer numbers of bright-eyed, well-meaning young people heading for volunteer assignments at some of Haiti’s many orphanages, eager to help the struggling nation’s more than 30,000 institutionalized children. Sadly, despite their good intentions, volunteers at orphanages are unwittingly supporting the terrible harm that institutions afflict on children in their care. More than 80 percent of children in the world’s orphanages have at least one living parent and most have relatives. They should be at home with their families, not in institutions. What orphanage children and their parents really need is to be reunited, with all the supports and services that will enable those families - no matter how poor - to give their children what they need to thrive and reach their full potential.

The desire to engage with the world is laudable, as is the desire to volunteer. But we need to tread more carefully. Unless we have time and transferable skills, we might do better to travel, trade and spend money in developing countries. The rapid growth of "voluntourism" is like the rapid growth of the aid industry: salving our own consciences without fully examining the consequences for the people we seek to help. All too often, our heartfelt efforts to help only make matters worse.

- From The Guardian