Taking Up the White Man's Burden for Fun and Profit

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The British high school grad tradition of the "gap year" (a tradition through most of Europe, actually) is being criticized by Voluntary Service Overseas, the British version of the Peace Corps.

Students who travel to developing countries risk doing more harm than good, argued Judith Brodie, UK director of VSO, criticising the emphasis on volunteer enjoyment rather than on how to help the communities they work in.

It is not feckless hedonism or misplaced idealism that VSO is criticising, but the booming industry in pre-packaged volunteering programmes. These are often run for a profit (although badly organised non-profit-making schemes may be just as harmful). "This is a growth industry and very competitive so the objectives may not be to deliver the maximum benefits to the communities these young people are working in," says Brodie.

Question: How far is the voluntary high school/college grad service industry going to get if the service organizations tell the grunts they should have less fun?

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  1. …and how far will the organizers go if they can’t make a profit?

  2. “These are often run for a profit ”

    Heaven forbid!!!

  3. Did anyone read through this?

    No empiricism, no facts or evidence to suggest that volunteers are doing more harm than good, just “concerns” and emotional wishy-washy feelings.

    Even funnier, the interviews with the 10 gap-year volunteers yielded like, 8 positives and two “we may have done both harm and good”.

    Neo-colonialism…that’s great. Now even mentioning Western culture in these backwaters is colonialism, akin to when John called voluntarily-working Mexicans “slaves”. If people actually knew what slavery/colonialism was like, they’d shut their retarded gaping maws.

  4. Did anyone read through this?

    No empiricism, no facts or evidence to suggest that volunteers are doing more harm than good, just “concerns” and emotional wishy-washy feelings.

    Even funnier, the interviews with the 10 gap-year volunteers yielded like, 8 positives and two “we may have done both harm and good”.

    Neo-colonialism…that’s great. Now even mentioning Western culture in these backwaters is colonialism, akin to when John called voluntarily-working Mexicans “slaves”. If people actually knew what slavery/colonialism was like, they’d shut their retarded gaping maws.

  5. As long as students learn how difficult it is to “help” people, then “gap years” are beneficial.
    (This reminds me of a class I had down in Fort Gordon, GA: Civil Affairs School. Summary of it: “helping” people ain’t easy.)

  6. This apparently is another case of the “trained professional” class of aid parasites attempting to protect their turf. One can make a damned good living in the “non profit” sector, as long as those evil capitalists don’t come around and screw everything up.

    Running a program for profit is less noble than wasting every penny.

  7. Now whether this piece is relevant or not, there are potential issues with volunteer work in developing countries. The long-term impact of “trying to help” can actually do the exact opposite. Whether the student have fun shouldn’t be the issue: actually, they should have fun. The primary question should be whether trained anthropologists are being consulted for these excursions. A for-profit, for-fun aid organization can be a wonderful thing if the students’ good intentions are guided into positive outcomes by trained cultural anthropologists.

  8. Cripes, is really going to fall to me to point out that taking your British money and spending it on vacation in a developing country isn’t “doing harm” to that country, but actually providing a cash infusion and employment?

    Missing a greater opportunity, maybe. But harm?

  9. “The primary question should be whether trained anthropologists are being consulted for these excursions. A for-profit, for-fun aid organization can be a wonderful thing if the students’ good intentions are guided into positive outcomes by trained cultural anthropologists.” – Gumbercules

    Dude, that was meant to be funny, right? The idea that an archeologist is needed to ensure the cultural sanctity of the people being aided sounds like science fiction to me. Specifically, the Prime Directive from Star Trek!

  10. wow joe…I declare you winner of the thread for pointing out something that was blindigly obvious yet I somehow missed. I am really impressed; I didn’t know monetary concerns entered into liberals’ heads.

    *sulks in corner*

  11. wow joe…I declare you winner of the thread for pointing out something that was blindingly obvious yet I somehow missed. I am really impressed; I didn’t know monetary concerns entered into liberals’ heads.

    *sulks in corner*

  12. Yep, joe makes the best point. Even if the time spent on a feel good project is less than effective, they’re still paying local vendors for food, lodging, and trinkets. That injection of cash into local businesses will do a lot of good.

  13. joe and thoreau,

    Take your money and your attempt to force your capitalistic ways on the oppressed and go! Wait, you can leave the money as you leave. And your hot, sleazy volunteers. But take everything else!

  14. Cripes, is really going to fall to me to point out that taking your British money and spending it on vacation in a developing country isn’t “doing harm” to that country, but actually providing a cash infusion and employment?

    Jeez… imagine how good it would be if a first-world corporation were to build a factory in a third-world country to produce things that the first-world country wanted…

  15. thoreau writes: “Yep, joe makes the best point. Even if the time spent on a feel good project is less than effective, they’re still paying local vendors for food, lodging, and trinkets. That injection of cash into local businesses will do a lot of good.”

    Well, maybe they’re paying local vendors for food, lodging, and trinkets. Or maybe they’re paying their “volunteer opportunity provider” far more than the local market rate, most of which goes back to a rich guy in England rather than helping the locals.

  16. joe @ 10:26 am

    Preach it, brother!

    Jon @ 12:57 pm

    Is there a point in there? Or do you just not realize that you are actually supporting what joe says?

  17. I met one of these kids while I was in Africa; he was Belgian, on his way home. Basically, the deal is, you go live in an African village for a few months “teaching” or what have you. He was supposed to be teaching them English and learning a little Swahili along the way. I had just been backpacking around East Africa for a few weeks and I knew more Swahili than he did. He confessed disarmingly that he had taught even less language than he learned. Nice kid. We shot pool and drank beer for an afternoon.

    Generally, I agree with Joe. He had learned a little about the world, some things I wish I had known at his age, and, while most of the money spent had likely gone to middlemen in Europe and the Tanzanian government, I don’t see how it did much harm to scatter a bit around the villages on trinkets. Perhaps the worst you can say is that it gives the African clients the impression that Western youth are physically soft, idle, and got too much time and money on their hands.

    Which is only the truth, after all. In his case, they also learned that some of them are okay guys, just the same.

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