One of the most popular types of trips for American’s in both high school and college are those that fall into the “voluntourism” category. These sorts of trips revolve around a group of frequently white and well-off, although not always, student traveling to foreign countries that are perceived to be in need of some sort of assistance from a group of untrained and poorly educated foreigners who know nothing about the local culture or the reasons for the issues they are trying to fix. There are a lot of people see this sort of thing as good and a way to show the world that we, as Americans, care about all of you; however there is also a growing movement is pointing out just how useless and self-serving these trips truly are. This becomes an even stronger sentiment when they point out all of the issues that these American “voluntourists” are blatantly ignoring in their own country. One of the best points these critics make is that most of the time these trips don’t actually benefit anyone other than those who are going on them to improve resumes and employment chances.
Kenyan journalist, photographer, and activist Boniface Mwangi is one of those critics who is asking Americans who plan on traveling abroad to “fix” problems to instead look at their own country and see how they can help there. In a video published by the New York Times, Mwangi goes to a high school and a university where he engages with students about why they feel the need to travel to other countries to volunteer instead of simply helping their own country when there is so much obviously wrong. He makes the good point that none of the Africans being helped by voluntourists have any reason to listen to any advice from foreigners because they don’t know the country and culture they are trying to fix.
Mwangi goes on to have discussions with students that show how there is a difference in attitudes when it comes to international volunteering vs intranational volunteering and how this attitude needs fixing. How can any country that has so many of it’s own issues lying in plain site be expected to help any others?
If you’d like to read more or watch the video, the link is here.