Voluntourism?! not on mah watch!!

When it comes to wealth distribution, the picture is pretty clear. We house in apartments or houses, have access to wifi (sometimes even for free), and have quality drinking water (even though some people still insist on buying bottled water for whatever unnecessary reason. JUST GET A BRITA! ). A further feature we see as naturally embedded in our beings are rights, be it from right to vote, right to health care, right to a decent life, and in our current age and time rights attuning to our Digital Self. While we hold these rights very highly, sometimes even asking someone not to post a picture online in order to control what is put online of one self, there seems to be a discrepancy when it comes to extending those Digital Rights to others, specifically people that hardly are connected to the World Wide Web in the first place. While I could go on about how we keep on infringing in people’s rights and hypocritically deny it in the guise of some ‘greater good’ purpose, this blogpost is mainly going to focus on charity work, with special regard to social status. Basically, generally wealthy societies, mainly Western ones, take a lot of gratification from charity work by posting pictures, bolstering up their CVs, becoming ambassadors to the NGO, etc. This doesn’t sit too well with my rights-defending derrière, so here is my take on it.

Charity from a philosophical point of view

While people often attribute great value to charity, only a part of moral philosophers would agree to this. By most part those would be called Libertarians, who believe in personal property as one the most integral rights we have, which cannot be infringed on at any cost. They believe that charity is a wonderful thing, where people give what they voluntarily want to give to others. In a world where all would be just and equal, this would be a great thing, but we live in a VERY unequal world, so no Daan from the Albert Heijn by my house, I don’t care you went to, how you initially referred to it “Africa”, which turned out to be Senegal after persisting twice that Africa was not a country. But I don’t want to turn this post into a criticism of men, so I resume to Charity. 

Many philosophers would, however, disagree, especially those interested in more global egalitarian principles. While charity thus seems like a nice way to help people in distress, this is merely the symptom of an unequal system. A reasonable view on justice, by which we understand what we owe to each other, would most likely disagree that charity is of any good. Charity becomes more of a place where people head to to alleviate their conscience pressed by their consumerist and unnecessarily extravagant tendencies. It is clear, however, that these people come from a place of wanting to help, but these little schools y’all build that close up after 8 months due to lack of funding doesn’t help alleviate people at all. It gives them hope, and then destroys it right in front of them. That is a lot of trauma for a child that depended on that NGO contribution to a decent life. In sum, charity is just a facade of good, which relies on an unequal distribution of wealth mixed with some conscience relief. Charity will not get us anywhere, redistributive global justice would however.


Having already dung into charity’s validity, let’s analyze on of its spawns, mainly the volunteer-tourism industry, in which people like you and me sign up to go somewhere for 2-4 months to help build a school, and teach some French/English. And these acts can be appreciated from a certain level of closeness. People are giving their free-time to help others which is a great thing. But apart from the aforementioned prospected project failure in 8 months, these volunteers continuously infringe on people’s right to 1)privacy and 2)autonomy.

To have privacy is to not be bothered or made to be bothered, and this usually until not taking a picture of someone when they don’t want to. These rights are usually upheld by our laws and their specific enforcements. But what jurisdictions do these transnational NGOs work under? They go into impoverished areas of developing countries, which in desperate need of any social or financial help let them come. They hand out food packets, let them see doctors, and that is again, one of the good point of these things. However, the exploitation starts quite quick, when the toys are handed out to the kids, and all photography hell breaks loose. Everyone gets their shots with the children, some hold them on their arms, while Michael says “they’re so cute, but I don’t know what they’re saying”. Of course you don’t Michael, we’re not in Europia anymore, where you could have maybe pulled a “ohhh i know how to say beer: Zervecha”. 

This is the part of charity that penetrates the rights of these people when volunteers go back home, and post all their ‘white savior’ picture, to show how great of people they are. It’s like the idea of Digital Rights regarding pictures online doesn’t apply to the people the charity is supposed to help. Their image of poverty, hunger and despair is juxtaposed with a brown haired, blue-eyed guy from Luxembourg that bears gifts. And people gobble up these things, and elevate these people to social heroes, while they are actually the ones upholding these unequal structures of wealth distribution, 

We need to talk about voluntourism

The main thing from this essay, is that people have rights. They don’t have to gain them, they have them already. The WHOOOLE pack. Past, present, and future. So, to all the voluntourists and NGO, and states permitting these highly inefficient ways of wealth redistribution: Stop using the life of impoverished people as an aesthetic to promote your already flawed contribution. They have digital rights too, they have ALL the rights too! When posting a picture with 20 little kids: Ask their parents and give them something for it. If they don’t want to do it, RESPECT THAT! Also tell all the major western natural lifestyle photo-companies to stop closing the market to local photographers that would actually help them on the long run with creation of photo jobs.

There is a lot to unpack in here, but I hope a little awareness was raised on the existing digital rights of people which are exploited by their NGOs for funding and social gratification, maybe even a kink, who knows, people are wild.