Voluntouring in Africa is too trendy
A summer spent in Africa seems to be
held in higher regard than one spent
in Romania or Central America.
It’s become an unwritten rite of passage in North American society for today’s young humanitarian to engage in the ultimate act of charity: traveling to a developing country to volunteer.
However, not just any developing region will do. To obtain that awe-inspiring repute, Africa has become the continent of choice.
Students on the brink of those four glorious summer months are faced with making decisions regarding how to spend this time.
For most, it’s a simple matter of working in order to pay for another year of education. For the luckier few, it’s a time to travel, explore and do some good in the world.
At the risk of sounding too cynical, I both support and engage in charity work locally and internationally. In fact, I considered it a probable summer option.
However, I couldn’t ignore the seemingly questionable motives of volunteers and the marketing techniques of organized volunteer trips as a means to gain credentials to succeed later in life.
An emphasis on volunteering is a welcome change in the student demographic, and though on paper it appears heroic, it is possible for some that it only perpetuates the need to keep to the latest trends whilst acquiring a well-regarded status in society.
This is probably the most disturbing aspect: volunteerism has become just another product to be branded, marketed and exploited.
Non-religious volunteer organizations no longer promote their trips as a way to help others, but focus it as a way to “find” oneself, gain real world experience and build up your resume; coincidentally, these reasons are entirely self-serving.
In looking at the act of international volunteerism as a product, we can see the privileging of some locations over others.
Just like materialism, one product label is often viewed as more prestigious, and sadly Africa has become the Gucci of the volunteer world. In our quest to spread charity to the developing world, we’ve instituted a hierarchical system among those who we decide are the most in need, the most prestigious and perhaps even the most deserving.
For instance, a summer spent in Africa seems to be held in higher regard than one spent in Romania or Central America.
Overseas volunteer work shouldn’t be discredited, as there are many who want to better the world.
But for those who see African nations as a place to develop self-confidence and a means to pack your grad school application, perhaps the actual money going to the trip would be better spent donated to charity.