VOLUNTOURISM: WHY MISSION TRIPS DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD

This post is not about faith and that isn’t a topic I want to discuss on here, but being that Christian-led mission trips are the subject of voluntourism, it will come into the picture. I am a Christian and was raised in the Catholic community. I even have a small memory of going on a church-led mission trip to an orphanage in Mexico when I was a child. I respect all beliefs and don’t think who you pray to, or don’t pray to, is any of my business nor does it matter. The reason I begrudgingly say this is so it’s clear this is not sh*t post against Christians; I am one, and religion has nothing to do with the following message.

Voluntourism is a term used to describe when people travel overseas to volunteer. For example, mission trips. People pay thousands of dollars to travel and lodge at overseas country, stay for a week or two to complete a “project,” like build a church and complete evangelistic work, and then leave. It’s a billion dollar industry. I have questioned the intentions of people on these trips, but I can’t give you an answer. I assume and like to think the majority of these missionaries have good, pure intentions, but the concept of it all begs the question of how much good is really being done.

One of the most common mission trip “projects” is construction. The part about this that’s wrong to me is there are local people and professionals who are willing and able to do the job. Jobs could have been created for the community by the construction of a “project.” But alas, missionaries fly thousands of miles and spend thousands of dollars to do a job that could’ve been completed without their presence. Not to mention, constructing a classroom isn’t a job that requires people from another country to fly in, it’s fairly simple. This takes opportunities away from local construction workers and masons who could have benefitted from a few week’s paycheck. Even more twisted is one of the reasons people go overseas to do their “project” is because they believe the country doesn’t have the financial means for it. Missionaries think so much of the peoples’ poverty, yet candidly take jobs away from them.

What would be many times more beneficial is donating money directly to the community. This way they can put the money to use how they please and towards long-term things. After a mission trip group builds that classroom they’re gone. They don’t stay to train teachers or support them with a wage. It is much more beneficial to improve education, which simply building a classroom doesn’t do. The citizens know what their community needs, not a group of people from across the globe who are eager to share this experience to social media.

An amazing article written by Mariette Williams for ZORA details her personal experience with voluntourism as a volunteer and later as a group leader and why she’ll never go on a mission trip again. Williams says, “Mission trips are often well intended, but poverty is a complex political and economic problem that won’t be solved with a weeklong trip.” That right there, is exactly what I’ve been trying to say this whole time. There is nothing a mission trip can do to solve a country’s poverty, and especially not by borderline modern-day colonialism.

The most upsetting aspect of voluntourism is the exploitation of children. An article by the Huffington Post talks about Haitian parents who were told and paid to send their children to orphanages where they could receive education and health care. The parents sent their children to the orphanages, manipulated into thinking it would lead to better opportunities, but their children were exploited. Images of them were posted to social media soliciting for funds. When the children returned they said they were constantly hungry in the orphanage, made to do heavy labor, beaten by the “director,” and never went to school. Plus, many of the children were sick from drinking polluted water and malnutrition. It’s also important to address the evangelistic work of mission trips. We’ll use Haiti as an example. According to a 2018 religious demography report of Haiti, 55% of the population is Catholic, 29% Protestant, 15% Baptist, and there are other present denominations of Christianity. These people know Jesus and I’m sure they have the tools to explore Christianity if not.

In conclusion, I do not support mission trips like the ones I’ve discussed. I like to think there are other kinds that have long-term goals for the visiting area, but I believe a lot of people (clearly not everyone, don’t come for me) use mission trips to convince themselves they’re good Christians and living like Jesus did when they’re actually being self-serving and ignorant. If you truly wish to help, donate to humanitarian organizations. Here are some places you can do that: Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), World Food Program USA (WFP).

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