The motive behind global volunteerism determines the effect your actions have on people from developing countries.
There are ethical concerns among activities such as painting a wall, building a house or playing with children from an orphanage because of the habit of documenting the experience, and mainly talking about how it changed you. Activities that seem humble and right might be damaging to these cultures, especially orphan children.
Children from unprivileged countries should not just be objects of affection or contribute to one’s “perfect Facebook profile picture.” They shouldn’t be treated as a playing object. If the motive behind an overseas trip is to feed one’s own traveler’s ego with orphan-hugging pictures, think before you go.
I grew up in a developing country; I know what it feels like to be on the other side and to not be the one leaving to return to a modern country where life is simply easier.
Children in developing countries do look up to Americans and the truth is that some idolize Westerners more than they should. If the right intentions aren’t portrayed and the right mindset isn’t there when traveling to these countries to physically help to some extent, they are feeding right into narcissistic “voluntourism.”
Participating on trips like these requires cultural appropriation and it requires being present and speaking truth such as those you meet.
I am not diminishing the power of volunteering abroad and the positive effect it does have on communities if it’s done well. Don’t just sign up for just any “serve abroad” organization out there. Do your research and find out where your money is going and if the activities performed when visiting the country actually impacts the life of the people there.
Search for well-established, non-governmental agencies that have visible prosperity in the specific country. Search for an organization that provides jobs to locals or educates young girls.
Going into these projects with the mindset that you are superior and you have come to “save” them from their unhappiness and misery is what stains these ongoing efforts to make our world a better place. Going to a new country and not knowing anything about the culture builds a barrier between you and the people who reside there.
Educate yourself in every aspect before going abroad and volunteering. It shouldn’t be something you just check off your bucket list.
Going to developing nations shouldn’t just be about photographing children in poverty and feeling good about yourself. It should be about physically helping and loving those who are different from you without thinking less of that culture or people group.