Volunteering is hip, but does it help?
H.O.P.E. Was Here explores the merits--and the pitfalls--of short-term volunteering abroad. Twenty Stonehill College students journey to the slums of Lima, Peru to live, learn, and volunteer during one of the school’s twelve alternative spring break trips. They spend the week teaching English to schoolchildren and assisting in rehabilitation clinics, but does it make a difference? Told from the contrasting perspectives of the American college students and their Peruvian hosts, H.O.P.E. Was Here delves into the true nature of “voluntourism.”
Volunteering on vacation, or “voluntourism,” is a booming travel trend popularized by commercial volunteer companies, universities, and other educational programs. Voluntourism is inspired by faith-based missions and organizations such as the Peace Corps. In the past decade, however, voluntourism has been spurred by disaster relief efforts, such as those in New Orleans and Haiti. Trips last for one week or a few months and usually combine cultural immersion and sightseeing with teaching, construction, childcare, or other projects.
Conscientious volunteering abroad can provide legitimate needs to communities, improve cultural understanding, and inspire personal growth in volunteers. But some see “voluntourism” as a tourist attraction unwillingly hosted by the poor, where participants are unskilled, or even unneeded. These ventures may harm or insult the people they are meant to help, all while making volunteers feel good about themselves. This divide has spawned fierce debates about the ethics of voluntourism, and whether or not its practice is worthwhile.
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