“Enjoy yourself in poor countries? Become a voluntourist”

“Enjoy yourself in poor countries? Become a voluntourist”

Sallie Grayson

A few hours ago I was notified that someone had posted a topic with the above title on the people and places group on linked in

At first I thought the video was a spoof – to my horror it wasn’t – take a look at the video here  if you don’t the rest of this post will be pretty meaningless.

My first reaction was to “out” the profoundly disturbing video on all the social networks I’m on – as an example of how bad “poverty tourism” marketing can be.

What I should have done was wait until I had written this post. Less than two weeks ago I wrote a piece about the need to stop bitching about poor practise and promote good practise .

….and what did I do? I bitched.

So now I am trying to put that right.

I want to start by stating again that I firmly believe the vast majority of “voluntourists” are well-meaning.

I have absolutely no reason to believe that the motivations behind making this video are suspect – rather that they are ill-informed.

I am no expert in psychology – I certainly don’t know all the correct language – and I know a lot of amazing people doing humbling work in thier own countries – we are very lucky to work with some of them. Their advice would be more valuable than mine – I am happy to put anyone interested in touch with them – the recent winner of the Virgin Responsible Tourism Award Reality Tours and Travel  would be an excellent source of advice (and I don’t know them personally !)

I also need to be clear – we at people and places believe that the chances of doing damage when “volunteering” for a matter of days or hours  are way way higher than the chances of doing good – and therefore we do not advocate such trips. I’m not questioning the ethics of “voluntourism” as such – BUT what I really want to address here is the message this video is sending out – subliminally, perhaps, but the message is there!

So here is my take on what is wrong with this video –

  • The title – the implication is that “poor countries” are playgrounds for those of us that are not “poor”. A better title would be one that suggests equality – for example: “Want to give something back to the countries you enjoy?”
  • The overall impression is  that the visitors are buying the performance of the children (or even worse, that the children are paying the visitors) – the visitors are only seen giving not receiving. Except for the images of the visitors handing out the food and the questioning of the video make,r there is no instance of them engaging with local people.
  • The image of  “voluntourists “ selecting, purchasing and serving food to the children carries a subtext: their regular carers cannot do this … it would have been so much better if the visitors had donated the money, the local  carers had purchased and prepared the food and fed the children – in the company of the visitors.
  • The image of the killing of the chickens – involved only local people  and the subtext was that of “savagery”  – did this need to be shown at all? Would the plucking scene not have sufficed?
  • The statement “The orphans have nothing ..their only support is some friendly tourists”…that is patently untrue – unless the local people shown appeared only for the video – and then one has to question whether the  correct “project ” was selected. Again this statement reinforces the implication that only we from rich countries know how to make a difference and can make a difference. Simple recognition that the local carers are doing all they can with limited resources would have been more respectful and dignified – and in all likelihood, would also have been more accurate!
  • The photo taking – making the children exhibits working for their food – the image of a “pack” of photographers looked like voyeurism – the packlike nature of the photographers underlines the vulnerability of the children.  Many childcare projects now ban the photography of children. This video gives permission for and reinforces such behaviour.
  • The final images of the children behind barbed wire carries the subtext that the children are captive victims at the project under duress – the reality is probably that the barbed wire is there to protect the property from rogue animals and thieves – but that’s not what is implied.
  • An interview with one of the local staff or volunteers asking what their work involved and how they cared for the children would have made all the difference. This would have gone a long way towards balancing the overall impression that the tourists were in control and knew what was best.

Oh dear – now my attempt to balance bitching makes me sound like a smug know all – well I can’t avoid that.

What do you think?

It would be great if you could post some examples of responsible voluntourism and “poor tourism” marketing here – I’m struggling, but here are a couple:

Reality Tours



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