Although this hilarious parody video is stereotypical of privileged gap year volunteers, it also holds some truth. Being blessed with the privilege to be able to take gap years and travel, volunteer tourists usually come from countries such as the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand and volunteer in developing countries in Africa and Asia. With the intention of serving those in need, volunteer tourists often assist in humanitarian and environmental projects. This new growing gap year/volunteer tourism phenomena has raised questions about the connection between volunteer tourists and neo-colonialism. Volunteer tourism has been attracting thousands young adults and offering them a cultural exchange experience from which they gain new personal skills. Volunteer tourism also helps young people with better employment chances in the future.
Sustainable development requires capacity and united efforts through people’s engagement.
Moreover, UN sees people as development actors ad not only recipients. For example, if it wasn’t for the millions of people who have involved themselves in various developmental projects voluntary, it is clear that none of the millennium development goals (MDGS) will be achieved. Even though it is important to note the importance of volunteers in development assistance, it has also raised concerns regarding its effectiveness, appropriateness and sustainability, particularly regarding the volunteers themselves.
“The use of volunteers, who often have little knowledge or experience of work they are undertaking, also calls into question their ineffectiveness and raises the specter of neo-colonialism in the tacit assumption that even ignorant Westerners can improve the lot of the people in the South.” Volunteer tourism organizations marketing their slogans such as ‘you are the difference’, ‘make a difference’, and ‘leave your mark on the world’ describe volunteer efforts as positive and achievable. This is a deceiving assumption about the complexities of development assistance. Moreover, the volunteer tourism industry has become commodified.
Some of the work that volunteer tourists do involves building homes or schools or engaging in conservation work within the local community, these are everyday simple jobs that anyone can do, including the locals. Studies have shown that volunteer tourism sometimes affects development of communities negativity, especially concerning how short the volunteer stays, their behavior, and how skilled they are. Moreover, volunteers usually pay a significant fee for the opportunity to participate in these volunteering programs, local communities would benefit greatly if the money was directly donated as it would pay a greater amount of labour. The labour hired would get more work done than one volunteer could. Volunteer tourist are able to experiment with their identity and get involved in different job roles with little or no attention paid to their skills and qualifications. Sometimes, they seem to hold self-interested motives. Moral arguments of whether gap year volunteering is principally motivated by altruism by egoistical motives have been raised. Privileged youth from developed countries might also be insensitive to different cultures and behave inappropriately local communities. Volunteering also gives them a hero complex, which is connected to neo-colonialist views that the faith of many developing countries or poor people depends on the help from Western volunteers and aid. Many volunteers are also unaware of the ways they might be indirectly exploiting local communities. Examples of this include environmental degradation through carbon footprint, and the psychological effects volunteers have on orphaned children when they leave. These children build an emotional attachment to volunteers and repeatedly feel abandoned with every leaving batch of volunteers.
While most volunteer tourists have good intentions, there has been criticism about the potential these tourists to lead to new forms of colonialist ideas and dependency. Studies found a number of volunteer tourism cases where experiences do not seem to encourage critical thinking about poverty and development, where foreign interests of volunteers are prioritized over local needs and where volunteer tourists and the organizations that offer volunteer tourism tend to receive more benefits than the locals.
In addition, it can lead to the potential exploitation of local communities and cultures. Volunteer tourists are the winners as they are provided with the opportunities to travel and ‘save the world.’
Balqis Hindash M00385581 Middlesex University Dubai Campus.