Volunteering abroad: the first world’s burden Canadian University Press October 6, 2013 12:00 am Opinions QASIM KAREEMI and SARAH MITCHELL — The Athenaeum (Acadia University) Who actually benefits from volunteering abroad? WOLFVILLE (CUP) — Every summer, students find their way around the world on unique traveling opportunities in developing countries. From Ghana to Ecuador to India, volunteer programs for university students aim to bring development to impoverished countries through student leadership. We commend our peers for their hard work in these faraway countries and assume that these programs present valuable and successful methods by which we bring aid to desperate communities that would be left in much worse conditions were it not for altruistic volunteer efforts. However noble in intent, these programs are a new method of the imposition of western values of development and progress through programs that offer better opportunities to the individuals volunteering abroad than they do those they are supposed to be helping. Volunteer programs abroad present a new manifestation of the first world’s burden to help those in need. We send our students across the world, like the missionaries who traversed the globe long ago, to impoverished places that lack those holy institutions of democracy and development. These are institutions that we have been raised to idealize, much the same as the missionaries of old idealized Christian values. Like was done in the past, we build schools and aim to improve the communities by imparting our own values and knowledge, which we promise to be of great global value. Volunteers who travel abroad are not necessarily motivated by the supposed altruism we imagine — in fact recent research suggests the opposite. In Rebecca Tiessen’s 2012 study on the motivations of Canadian students who volunteer abroad, “personal growth was the motivation most often indicated as very important” — as indicated by 55 out of the 68 participants in her sample. They also highlighted the “luck” they associated with being born in Canada and the developed world. As Tiessen herself notes, this suggests that these Canadian student volunteers see the developing world as unlucky. They assume that volunteering is a good way to reverse the fortunes of the unlucky, paying little regard to the global system they perpetuate and benefit from, which constitutes the real foundations of the “unluckiness” of the developing world. These neo-colonial endeavors are not merely perpetuated by students, but are empowered by foreign aid institutions at a higher level. The Canadian International Development Agency is a government organization that funds foreign development programs. A large portion of CIDA’s funds are actually directed toward various forms of volunteering abroad programs. This means that much of our foreign development money is being spent on sending Canadian students abroad for their own personal growth while keeping them safe and secure amongst the dangerous and unlucky. Again these programs are reminiscent of the state-funded missionaries sent to bring Christianity to the heathen masses scattered around the globe. This is not to condemn those students who do volunteer abroad or to suggest that the work they do is without any benefit whatsoever to the communities they aim to help. What is important here is to note our own selfish attitudes underlying some of the noblest looking programs we fund. But we should not simply abandon these enterprises and leave the developing world alone altogether. As the famous post-colonialist author Aimé Césaire said, “for civilizations, exchange is oxygen.” The important question is whether the way that we currently exchange knowledge and goods with other nations is the most equitable and fair way of interaction and trade. To this end, the answer is simply no. Whether we like it or not, we help to maintain a global system which perpetuates increasing disparities of power and wealth. Even when we aim to alleviate the symptoms of this systemic inequality, our efforts amount to little more than self-beneficial endeavors that perpetuate neo-colonial ideals of development. – Photo: Vision Service Adventures/Flickr anon If you want to truly “make a difference” in the world, why not start where there’s people with power, who can actually make a difference? I think people need to focus on how they can spread awareness about pressing global issues in their own hometown or homecountry (a developed nation). The ‘underprivledged’ will only benefit when the people in power start recognizing the effects of their lifestyles and start changing their ways. One or two people being sent to a poverty-stricken village once upon a time in their life to help provide water for a month won’t make an important difference in the long term. But being a global citizen in your own country, making a statement to the people in power about how action needs to be taken, that can truly pressure the ‘lucky’ people to use their power in a meaningful way. Leglislation reflects public awareness. Thus, only by taking action in our own country and protesting our leaders to do the same can we actually send significant help to the people in need. Why not make a difference 100% of the time by being a global citizen in your own country instead of just being a ‘lucky’ person 98% of the time and helping 2% when you went abroad once upon a time? mark so instead of helping people in need, lets just sit at home on our fat asses and watch t.v. if anything we need more volunteer programs so that we westerners can lose our sense of entitlement to the world. what makes more sense to you. sitting around and complaining about the state of the world, or actually going out into the world and making small changes. no single person can change the state of the world. hell, no group of people can change the state of the world. so we must attempt to make changes at the level of the individual. we don’t realize how much of a difference we can make helping others, because we have never truly needed help ourselves. go live In a third world country for a few years and tell me if you still think that volunteer programs that bring people water, food and education are a bad thing. I am not the biggest fan of our institutionalized educational system, but without it, you wouldn’t be sitting here writing this article. regardless of the persons motivation (whether selfish or altruistic) they are still out there trying to be compassionate for the rest of humanity, while you sit here and complain about their actions. N/A Lets say the average plane ticket to get to the regional south of the world is, 800 dollars CAD. This money is in addition to the insurance rates volunteer companies demand you pay, we will call that of roughly 240 CAD. That is the money it costs for a Canadian to fly into a country to take jobs away from a local and impoverished population simply to feel good about themselves. An alternative to spending two weeks abroad doing work for people who are very capable of doing the work for themselves, is donating the money to them or a foreign aid organization. With that much foreign currency injected into the local economy there could be enough for local workers to build ten houses, depending on the country of discussion. Plus there is a multitude of great foreign aid organizations that focus specifically on only higher local population, and using local resources in construction projects. Long term donations of small amounts of money, or large short term donations will stimulate the local economy and ensures longer lasting, higher quality projects. ctc I listened to a very interesting conversation on Q this morning with Peter Buffett (Warren Buffett’s son) regarding giving to charity, especially to Third World Countries. I haven’t read his essay yet, but I’ll post it here for those interested: http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2013/10/08/peter-buffet-on-charity/ Kay As being one of these “volunteers” who is currently going down to mexico on one of these trips, I can honestly say that yes everyone has their motivation for doing what they do, but like anything else there is always a good and bad side to everything. I’m apart of a missions trip to a small town in mexco this coming december, where we are BUSSING it down not flying, and are staying in basic door style quarters not a nice resort with the perk of running water( when its up and working) We are bulding a soup kitchen for the local community which we are funding the supplies fully that we are purchasing from the local community. With the help of paid staff from a local foundation who hire locals to run the foundation. We aren’t a group going down to “steal” locals jobs we are there to help them. Most students quit school by grade 3 to go work in the fields as they are too poor not to work and feed their families. So I must disagree that I am going down just to better myself, on a trip like this it will change everyone who helps out or is apart of it, but as my main reason to go, of course not. Does it make it less worthy of our time because both sides benefit, I don’t think so.