Travel to make a difference - For better or worse
By Vilhelm Stokstad
“It's exactly like going to Magaluf, except you hug kids for a couple of hours out of your day” - a former volunteer.
Volunteering is the new backpacking. It is a booming business with slogans like ”travel to make a difference”. But some of these arranged volunteering trips establish a ”we and them” thinking that can increase the social, cultural and economical gap rather than decrease it. This gets even more evident when the often wealthy volunteers — a volunteering trip often costs several years of annual income in the country of visit — stays in guarded compounds, sometimes with their own chef and maid. As volunteering has become more of a business, many companies care more about profits than actual change.
At orphanages, children often need long and stable relationships, but a two week visit by volunteers may result in the opposite. In a school on Zanzibar, to feel more included, volunteers were in charge of the English curriculum. This resulted in a new curriculum every two weeks, denying the children a long term education plan.
The ongoing photography based research project Voluntourism aims to challenge visual stereotypes by holding up a mirror on how we (including photojournalists) represent ”the other”. It questions the contrast in behaviour by westerners towards children in Europe and children of other continents and hope to encourage reflection and sustainable solutions for volunteer work.
You can follow the project on www.vilhelmstokstad.com and through #voluntourism.