I came across a fascinating blog post by Jayne Cravens, a consultant to mission-based non-profit groups and non-governmental organizations. Jayne writes about a new report that strongly discourages short-term volunteer trips (AKA voluntourism), especially those purported to help needy children.
One piece of this, which I concede I'd never considered before, immediately reversed my (previously cheery) view about programs that bring volunteers abroad to work with children. To quote from the report:
There are serious concerns about the impacts of short-term caregivers on the emotional and psychological health of very young children in residential care facilities. The formation and dissolution of attachment bonds with successive volunteers is likely to be especially damaging to young children. Unstable attachments and losses experienced by young children with changing caregivers leaves them very vulnerable, and puts them at greatly increased risk for psychosocial problems that could affect their long-term well-being.
The report also mentions that volunteers who swoop in for short stays often take jobs from locals, and it further accuses many mission-based organizations of exploiting volunteers for profit.
Well. Cravens stops short of eviscerating the whole enterprise, and she lists a half dozen groups that do a good job of facilitating voluntourism (per her research). She also recommends a book, How to Live Your Dream of Volunteering Overseas, by Joseph Collins et al, which Cravens says can "make your volunteering have real impact for the local people" and benefit you for the long run.
If child welfare is a topic as close to your heart as is it to mine, one way to help kids is to volunteer with a local organization where you have a better chance of developing longer-term relationships with children - and the parents, teachers and others who have the biggest impact on their development. Use Create The Good to find opportunities near you, or other established groups, like Prevent Child Abuse America.
What do you think? Should people refrain from voluntourism based on this perspective?