Voluntourism is increasingly popular among travellers of all ages and has attracted both praise and criticism. It is estimated that the industry is worth up to $2.6million worldwide and it continues to grow as people flock to volunteer overseas. It is especially popular among students taking a gap-year and university students. They volunteer in countries building shelters, looking after children in orphanages or supporting vulnerable groups in the community. As wonderful as that sounds, these volunteers are usually untrained in these fields.
The Human Sciences Research Council has voiced concerns regarding the growing industry saying that many unskilled tourists who are paying to volunteer may be crowding out local workers who are trained. To think that an unskilled student can go to another country that has perfectly able people willing to do the job and take that opportunity for growth from them is ludicrous.
There is a darker tone to the voluntourism trend that echos that of colonialism. The white saviour, rescuing the poverty stricken people. This is dangerous. Almost all photos on voluntourism sites are of young white men or women doing a job alongside a local. The focus of these sites is on the volunteer, not the community they are supposed to be assisting. This narcissism is prevalent in he social media feeds of those volunteering and it is even encouraged by voluntourism organisations as a way to advertise without accruing large costs.
There’s no denying volunteering can be good and productive but when an industry is encouraging unskilled people to unintentionally take opportunities from locals it becomes lees productive and more of a hindrance. Although the volunteers’ intentions may be good, their activities may not be assisting the local communities.