Samantha Nutt on the Problems of Volunteer Tourism

War Child USA Founder Dr. Samantha Nutt says that volunteer trip you might be going on this year isn’t helping anyone.

“Voluntourism trips are largely designed to benefit the visitor — rather than the host communities — making a spectacle out of poverty and reinforcing outdated stereotypes about developing countries,” she explained. “Volunteer tourism — sometimes called voluntourism is now a multi-billion-dollar industry, with millions of people volunteering while on vacation every year.”

But is this industry all it’s cracked up to be? According to Dr. Nutt, reports from Haiti and Cambodia reveal that orphanages offering volunteering experiences for tourists have been accused of keeping conditions deliberately bleak so that visitors will feel compelled to give more.

Studies by South African child psychologists of orphaned children exposed to ever-revolving foreigners also found that they might become overly affectionate because they constantly form bonds with people who abandon them.

“Impoverished communities around the world won’t be ‘saved’ by our volunteer labor and good intentions,” Dr. Nutt warned. “Quite the opposite. What they want, need, and deserve, more than anything else, are the tools, resources, and opportunities to learn and to do that work themselves.”

She also suggests that tourists invest in an area’s economy by buying locally when they visit, especially Caribbean nations still reeling from recent hurricanes.