Is Helping People Harmful?

In class, we’ve discussed medical voluntourism and how it effects others in foreign countries. Usually when people hear about such programs, they assume that traveling abroad and providing medical assistance/supplies to areas that lack resources is a good thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to see people willing to take time out of their schedule and go somewhere to help build up a community. However, they might do so in a manner where they come across as being insensitive. In group discussions, it seemed to me that we were only dissecting and critiquing the cons of medical voluntourism. This led me to question, if medical voluntourism is such a controversial and socially detrimental situation, why are there still service trips that travel abroad? There has to be some sort of silver lining to this, right? I did some research to try and find organizations that follow the philanthropist ideal and to hopefully restore my faith in humanity.Before I present my argument of some groups willing to improve the well-being of others, you should watch this video that explains the “White savior complex” that’s ubiquitous amongst people going on medical voluntourism trips or studying abroad in general. I found it interesting to know that there are some people who realize that this Westerner portrayal is common. The video mentioned how if you’re going to post something, don’t be the center of attention. It shouldn’t reflect how many likes the individual got on social media or how many people left positive reviews on NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) websites. Bob Moses, an activist from the Civil Rights Movement, once said “the legacy that’s important is the organizing…the passing on” (Jodi Wilgoren, 2001, p.4). This can be implied when discussing medical voluntourism and how a service trip should leave a positive impact not only for the locals to learn from, but for the volunteers to grow from this experience as well.

The steps taken by some organizations have been to inform the volunteers of the medical guidelines and what’s expected of them. Meaning, students should be respectful of the culture of the people they’re helping and that they shouldn’t go out of their way to do something that’ll benefit their personal agenda. Regardless of what type of group work you’re involved with, interdependence is essential towards achieving a common goal. There has to be a sense of “help me, help you” in the work environment. If not, then there’s bound to be an unfair share of credit and an imbalance of who benefits more from the task at-hand.

There should be no room for disrespectful behavior nor superiority when volunteering in a community. People, particularly students, go to low-income countries to show academic institutions what they’re capable of, even though they clearly lack the training, let alone a degree. Nonetheless, there is a “both/and” complexity that underlies when attempting to pinpoint a wholesome and unbiased medical organization.  When I did my research, I did find companies like the American Red Cross and Americares that give more reassurance towards their mission. Even though these organizations make claims to informing both the community health workers and volunteers how to perform medical procedures and what diseases they are focusing on, you still have to keep in mind that looks can be deceiving. Some of the information shown on these websites can be just as misleading as the people who volunteer on these trips. All in all, I believe that the fact people are opening up a conversation about medical voluntourism and the do’s-and-don’ts that follow is a step in the right direction.

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