The article discusses, then demolishes, a number of the arguments for volunteers going overseas to help.
Here’s just a few thoughts for your consideration:
Aid and development are professions, not hobbies. It takes specific knowledge, skill and experience to get this right.
Aid is difficult even for organizations with lots of full time staff who are trying to get it right. There is serious debate in process about what it looks like to get it right.
Ponder this idea for a moment:
Pro-tip: Take your own argument in favor of volunteers going to Ghana/Cambodia/Uganda/wherever, search/replace “local gynecological clinic”, and see if the argument still works.
There is also a condescension factor in the idea that poor people can’t do anything for themselves and we have to fix it. Anything we can do will make things better. Consider:
Don’t volunteers do some good? Sure–you can find examples of volunteers not causing massive system failure. But then, ‘not causing massive system failure’ is hardly the same thing as ‘effective.’
There is also the idea that short term visitors mean well and will try really hard, so it’s okay.
Pro-tip: Picture yourself in the dentist’s chair, having your teeth being drilled by someone who has not had any dental training, but who means very well. Surely, he/she must be accomplishing some good…
There is much more. Check it out.
The risk of causing more problems that help you give is really high. I’ve described that in my posts on unintended consequences. There are lots of ways to cause harm that I never would have thought about 4 years ago.
Update: J’s followup post – Is any harm being done?
J says the underlying question on whether voluntourism is good or bad usually gets back to the question of whether any harm was done.
He points out that unlike the medical or airplane analogies where you can see harm really quickly, it is difficult to see the results of harm from poorly designed or delivered aid.
So you spent a fortune taking a construction team to build the whatever. When you left, things were fine. What you didn’t see was the dozen carpenters and plumbers who didn’t get two or three days work. How can you link the feel good result of leaving a building behind and the dozen families without income for the week?
Please, check out the article. J does a far better job explaining this than I ever could. Check out the tag unintended consequences on my blog if you want a bunch of examples of troublesome aid and assistance.