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Volunteer trips are inherently problematic: Understanding how voluntourism encourages a complacency

This blog was written by 2020 summer intern Mia Cho as part of her internship project.


Voluntourism is a booming, multibillion-dollar industry that arranges trips for people from the Global North to volunteer in counties in the Global South. Voluntourists engage in a range of volunteer activities including building wells, working with local children, or teaching English. Volunteer trips have increased in popularity over recent years because they are appealing to a broad audience: the high school student applying to elite universities, the college student looking for a “life changing experience”, or those who are simply looking for an exciting opportunity to help others. These trips are marketed as helpful, virtuous, and sometimes even pivotal for the communities that are being “helped.” However, before embarking on a volunteer trip, it is important to acknowledge the flawed aspects of the voluntourism industry. It is important to understand that many times, organizers of these trips prioritize creating a memorable experience for their voluntourists above centering the local community or improving their quality of life through solutions they themselves have identified.


Voluntourism trips are intrinsically problematic because the very basis of these trips rely on white savior attitudes. White saviorism is the term used