The Humanity Lacking in Humanitarian Trips
How false generosity can do more damage than good
By Laura Krochenski
Want to know how to make 2019 your best year yet? According to WE, a non-profit organization, going on one of their humanitarian trips is the way to achieve this goal. WE
places a primary emphasis on making education, water, food, and healthcare accessible in nine developing countries. Despite this, there is something unsettling about their statement. It caters to the idea that humanitarian trips are about improving one’s own life, not that of the communities being helped.
On this note, there is a rising trend of false generosity when it comes to these trips.
Many attend in order to make themselves look better in the eyes of their peers, using social media to share their experience. Those who use these trips with only their interest in mind do little research while searching for the organization they wish to support. This reality leaves many vulnerable to potential scams.
It wasn’t until I went on a trip to Nicaragua and worked with the organization “Waves of
Hope” that I realized how destructive “world changing” organizations like WE can really be.
While on a tour of a remote village in Playa El Manzano with Waves of Hope, I learnt that even with the right core values, the execution of ideas by humanitarian organizations can sometimes cause more harm than good.
During the trip, our tour guide explained that the goal of these organizations is often to construct as much as possible, with the priority of quantity over quality. These organizations often spend the same amount of time in a given region as the individual volunteer on the trip. Due to this, there is often no follow up; schools that are built will run out of supplies and deteriorate with no upkeep, and diseases will spread amongst the animals in donated farms. Other issues occur as well, including the imposition of Western culture in medical clinics, ignoring the culture’s traditional healing methods, and visits to orphanages becoming a lucrative business. Organizations will scam well-meaning volunteers into believing that these orphans need their help, yet the donations will then go directly into their pockets, never to be seen by the children. UNICEF states that in Cambodia, 75% of the children in orphanages were trafficked for this very reason.
Honest mistakes may happen, but it often seems as though the humanitarian work is really just for show. The tour guide informed us that WE was presented with the opportunity to build a high school, having enough funds to also for new supplies and general upkeep, WE decided to make 25 small schools instead. While there being more schools meant more children could be reached, these schools will quickly run out of school supplies for the students and the lack of maintenance will cause deterioration.
While WE opts for projects that simply paints their organization in a positive life, Waves of Hope is dedicated to prioritizing communities and causes. Earl Cahill, one of Waves of Hope’s presidents states that “[Waves of Hope] didn’t want to come in too strongly with big ideas of how we could change their lives, but instead we wanted to learn from the local people and listen to what they hoped for their community and how we could support this”.
If focusing on one community and working with them to fulfill their needs is the most effective way to make a difference, why aren’t more organizations following this mentality? This leads me to question their ethics: are they really in it to help the communities or are humanitarian trips just another profitable and validating business?
North South Studies’ coordinator David Olesik explains that nonprofit organizations will also hide their profits by claiming the money is being used to run the organization. He stresses the importance of doing research before picking an organization, making sure it is transparent about the amount of money going to the admin versus the actual cause. Most importantly, however, it is crucial to pick an organization with a philosophy that prioritizes solidarity rather than charity. This means that the volunteers have an empathetic approach: they are there to learn and to collaborate with the community, all the while fulfilling their needs. The mission is not to exert power These are all aspects that David keeps in mind while planning for the annual solidarity field trip to Cuba that the North South students embark on.
There are plenty of scams out there, and making a real difference in the world isn’t as simple as a two week trip. Humanitarian benevolence extends beyond that… and despite the personal gratification one may feel when doing a good deed, this ego boost should not be the main goal. Bettering the lives of those around us in a substantial way is the true point.
Woman posing for social media with children during a humanitarian trip// via: medium.com