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Service Trips

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Your (or your children’s) service trips, or voluntourism, basically do nothing to help the world’s poor and are essentially all about the people of the wealthy world feeling good about themselves, not to mention getting some good selfies.

People on such short trips usually don’t stick around long enough to realize how ineffective they are being. In Uganda, I got used to seeing groups of young people come for week-long visits at the orphanage where taught English. They would play with the kids, give them a bracelet or something, and then leave all-smiles, thinking they just saved Africa. I was surprised when the day after the first group left, exactly zero of the kids were wearing the bracelet they had received the day prior. The voluntourists left thinking they gave the kids something they didn’t have before (and with bragging rights for life). But the kids didn’t care, because what they really wanted was school uniforms, their school fees to be paid, guaranteed meals, basic healthcare, and the like — the basics.

I recognize there are some short-term trips that do produce value, but if you went on a voluntourist trip and had to question if you really “made a difference” or not, the answer is probably not. Good intentions are not good enough. To use a medical analogy, an aortic dissection cannot be fixed by giving the patient an aspirin, wishing them well, and then walking away whilst patting yourself on the back for helping. Similarly, temporary measures do not solve the chronic and multifaceted societal problems many developing nations face.

Worse, they can even be harmful to children who struggle with abandonment issues. This should not be understated; have you ever considered the negative impact it routinely has on kids after they bond with someone for a week, and then that person disappears from their life? If your justification for going on these trips is “seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces”, then you’re part of the problem.

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