The debate around ‘voluntourism’ has been inescapable these past few weeks, with many fierce discussions arising as a result of the recent articles from the Condé Naste Traveller, Guardian and The Independent (the latter being a particularly vitriolic account).
I’ve greeted most of the subsequent commentary on the subject with a sense of unease. Whilst all the points raised in the debate are no doubt valid, and I agree that having this discussion is entirely necessary, there seems to be a certain tone of superiority underlying much of what is being said. Despite it being a problem that persists in much of the voluntary/NGO sector, there are some who appear to place the blame solely on the volunteers. In several of the comments there is a strong air of ‘one-upmanship’- of who can seem the most reflexive and self-aware in their experience- which all seems rather pointless when you realise you are an experienced development worker choosing to belittle an idealistic, perhaps overly naïve teen.
I won’t pretend to know a great deal about the regulation of the industry as a whole, or what the best solution might be, but it seems clear that while educating and informing young people on the issue is vital, belittling and publicly shaming those who have been on such a trip serves no purpose whatsoever.