Throughout this semester, I have also been taking Professor Melanie Blood’s “Brecht & Descendants” course which focuses on the socialist playwright Bertolt Brecht. As expected from a socialist, a lot of his works focus on class differences in socio-economical terms. Due to the overpowering influences of society created by these different statuses, the characters’ identities are often muted, especially in the 1900s. Different classes have different rights taken away and/or determined for them. On one hand, the daughters of the bourgeois might have no say in who they can marry depending on their parents’ wants. On the other hand, the working class have limited working opportunities and specific living areas based on the government. Keeping this in mind, a similar situation can be found in the world of voluntourism.
According to Teju Cole, developing countries are “liberated space[s] in which the usual rules do not apply: a nobody from America or Europe can go to Africa and become a godlike savior or, at the very least, have his or her emotional needs satisfied.” This satisfaction allows for the development of the “White Savior Industrial Complex,” also known as the belief that only white Americans can “ride in on a white horse” (Cole, 2012) and save the whole country in one go. As a “white savior,” they believe there are no limitations restricting them and that the region is their oyster. Similar to Aristotle’s theory of catharsis, I believe that these individuals travel to such areas to surround themselves with so much “tragedy” (AKA starving orphans and such) that they undergo some kind of spiritual purgation. These volunteers often have a lot of privileges that they do not recognize and, therefore, are limited in their understanding of others’ struggles. As a result, the feeling of catharsis becomes so strong that these volunteers feel like martyrs, as if they are sacrificing everything about themselves in a span of three weeks (or however long their service trip is).
Fulfillment is a powerful feeling that often overcomes any other emotions in these service trips. Volunteers are spurred on to share their amazing story with their peers and mentors without looking back at the actual impacts they have made on the community they “helped.” This is sometimes caused by the companies that host these programs which often focus on advertising the volunteer’s journey and experience rather than the service being offered to the local community in need. After sharing their experience, other people become interested to embark on a similar journey and the companies gain more profit, creating a cycle of supply and demand for international gratification.