Every year I see and hear about different trips students go on which take them around the world. One type of travelling which has grown in popularity is volunteering trips, whether to work as part of an organisation or to help in the local community. When I see Instagram posts or hear about these trips I always find myself conflicted. On the one hand, I obviously find it admirable and inspirational that people dedicate some of their time specifically to help others but there is always a part of me that questions how ethical student’s roles are in these organisations.
to help make a difference there needed to be a more long-term solution
One article which particularly resonated with me and made me re-evaluate and confirm my perspective towards voluntourism was written by Pippa Biddle and was called ‘The Problem with Little White Girls, Boys and Voluntourism’. Biddle wrote the article after completing two volunteer trips to the Dominican Republic and Tanzania. After reflecting on her experiences, she felt that to help make a difference there needed to be a more long-term solution which required trained professionals like doctors and engineers, and not necessarily students.
Many trips that are undertaken by students are part of a program which last typically a few weeks, and of course in this time it is unreasonable to expect these individuals to make a remarked difference. I do, however, think the work of students should not be taken for granted as they help to fill an ever-growing demand for help and like I have already said find it admirable that people give up their time.
It is very easy to be drawn up into the attractiveness of venturing abroad
Incidentally, there are occasions where tourism can exacerbate pre-existing problems. This is particularly noticeable with elephant sanctuaries; a form of tourism that has risen in popularity as they give tourists a ‘hands-on’ approach and a chance to interact with animals up close. However, research carried out by the World Animal Protection which works across Asia concluded this form of tourism has driven a rise in people capturing elephants with the number of elephants in captivity increasing by almost a third over the last five years alone.
As a traveller and tourist, people adopt a responsibility to firstly be respectful of the place where they are visiting but also to ensure they question the impact of their actions. It is very easy to be drawn up into the attractiveness of venturing abroad but I hope that before people sign up they make sure they do research to make sure they are making a difference in the right way.