• • • Paradigm Shifts • • •

Voluntourism

Affluent Kids "Doing Missions"

Written by Benjamin Reese


 

Missions has become easy to talk about in economic terms. There is a high demand for travel, cultural experiences, and adventure, and there is a demographic of young people that have the money to pay, quite handsomely, for these experiences. In this arrangement, there is money to be made. Under the pressures and attraction of economic gain, missions has become less about serving people and more about offering a product, a product that panders to a young demographic willing to shell out money for interesting pictures to put on their facebook accounts.

This model of missions has become synonymous with missions as a whole. People fail to distinguish between this model and more serious approaches to development. The confusion of categories is counter-productive in many ways. Thinking that all mission work is of the same grade, people can believe they are participating in something serious when in fact they are not.

It’s better to call things for what they are. (One of the main responsibilities of language users is to properly categorize things.) It would be better to call the prevalent model of missions something different--something like “voluntourism”--to distinguish it from serious mission work. Missions is an attempt to create a workable response to the problems of the third world; “voluntourism” is an attempt to satisfy the needs of young people who want to travel the world. The two models are in fact worlds apart. The two models run in opposite directions. One is uprooting what the other is trying to plant.

An example: Young people want to see poverty. The more lurid the scene, the better. Because of this, there is often little incentive for short-term trips to actually improve the living conditions of the people they work with.

This doesn’t mean that we never do short-term trips, or that all other missions organizations are “voluntourists.” It is to point out a reality: There is a whole industry of missions that has nothing to do with seriously attempting to improve the long-term living conditions of the poor, and they have everything to do with providing an experience for young people to enjoy. To equate serious mission work with voluntourism--to say that they are practically doing the same thing--is a confusion of reality.

When you analyze the issues of a third-world environment, you quickly come to the realization that the solution won’t come in the form of quick trips and inexperienced youth. You realize that giving a workable response to these problems requires a kind of dedication that simply will not appeal to a person’s desire for a quick dose of adventure and fun.