Years ago, I was reading some magazine (Time? Life? Look?) and came upon an article that was depicting the adventures of Peace Corps volunteers in some faraway land. They were constructing a well for the local natives. And they were gleeful and full of pride.
The village natives too were all smiles, standing behind the white boys and girls who were building their well for them. Everyone was happy.
I reacted by yelling at the magazine: Why can't these people dig their own well?
I understand the need and the offer of assistance, and I realize that the poverty-stricken masses may very well have required, and were probably grateful for, the donation of the materials and tools necessary to construct the well. But why did it require that these wide-eyed Americans come in and labor for them? Why couldn't they have just taught the natives how to construct their own well? Why didn't the locals already know how to dig a well? Why hadn't they dug their own well?
What was going on? What kind of people fly half way around the world to do for others that which others should easily be able to do for themselves?
Well, that was long ago.
Let's go to July, 2007:
I received my copy of Time magazine and came upon a story entitled, "Vacationing Like Brangelina." The first paragraph of the article:
Getting in touch with your inner Angelina Jolie is easier than it used to be. The so-called voluntourism industry, which sends travelers around the globe for a mix of volunteer work and sightseeing, is generating almost as much praise and criticism as the goodwill ambassador herself. Are volunteer vacations--which have become so mainstream that CheapTickets recently started letting online customers book volunteer activities along with their vacations--merely overpriced guilt trips with an impact as fleeting as the feel-good factor? Or do they offer individuals a real chance to change the world, one summer jaunt at a time?The article was accompanied by the photo above. The caption: "Volunteers with the group Globe Aware dig a trench to lay a water pipe in Costa Rica."
Affluent white boys and girls, presumably from the USA, went down to Costa Rica to dig a trench for the locals. And were happy for having done it. And the natives, who stood around watching these northerners dig the trench for them were gleeful ...
"Overpriced guilt trips with an impact as fleeting as the feel-good factor."
I didn't get it then. I don't get it now.