Voluntourism vs Volunteerism

I notice that some people in my life think that the most impactful thing one can do is something that is far away, something to invest a lot of money into so that they truly make a huge impact and difference. Yes, voluntourism can do a lot to help, but that is overlooking whats right in front of us. There’s this idea that one has to travel out thousands of miles to “help the starving children in Africa,” all the while there are children right in the cities we live in facing issues that can possibly stay with them the rest of their lives. According to the nonprofit No Kid Hungry there are currently 13 million children in the United States who do not receive nutritious food on a regular basis. The “tourism” aspect of voluntourism can have a tendency to outshine the real work, and I think it’s important to remember the term’s roots. Volunteering.

When I was in high school, it was required for each student to receive a minimum of 25 service hours each year. I was never the person to get all my hours from one location, I would join 3 or 4 organizations every single year. I did a verity of things, from wrapping gifts at the mall to raise money for Autism Services to checking the expiration dates on canned goods to serving lunch at a soup kitchen, but there was one thing I consistently noted at every place I went. Every operation I worked with were always looking for more volunteers. Coordinators were so appreciative when I would mention returning to do more work or that I would bring friends along the next time I came. There is a huge need for people in a community to go out and help, and I think this is many times outshined by the big experience of voluntourism.

Being able to write on your resume that you worked to cure diseases in a developing country is a huge accomplishment, and I don’t mean to make it seem like I’m playing down such an impressive act. I just want to remind everyone that making a difference doesn’t only mean traveling to another country for a month.  It can just be driving downtown and doing something small for two hours. As the holiday season approaches, many organizations need a lot of help so I highly recommend you go work in your community.

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