Voluntourism is when individuals take trips abroad for the purpose of “seeing how others live” and “giving back.” The problem is, these trips can create simplistic, self-serving narratives. Voluntourism can be harmful to local communities, while primarily benefiting the voluntourists — maybe even providing them with the perfectprofile picture. On the other hand, good intentions exist, and exposure to alternate realities can be valuable. The question is, how do we create a better volunteer model?
We need a new framework for volunteering abroad that is empathy-driven rather than sympathy-driven: the Leadership Growth Experience (LGE). Voluntourism falls on the sympathy-driven end of a spectrum, implying pity and exoticism of foreign communities. LGE is on the empathy-driven end of the spectrum, focusing on dignity and understanding. During an LGE, volunteers seek to engage with and learn from the community they are interacting with. The focus is on fostering empathy, humility, mutual multi-cultural understanding, and experience working with constrained resources. (more…)