What Role Do Citizens of Wealthy Countries Play as Volunteers in the Global South?

While citizens of developed countries account for only a small minority of the volunteer work that goes on in the Global South, there is a large literature on one type of North-south volunteering, called “voluntourism.” Voluntourism, or combining vacation travel with volunteer work, represents a growing phenomenon in volunteering (Butcher & Smith, 2010; Dykhuis, 2010; Vodopivec & Jaffe, 2011). Volunteer tourists are motivated by altruism, the desire for new experiences, and the desire to socialize with and learn from people from another culture (Stoddart & Rogerson, 2004). The academic literature on voluntourism focuses on three subjects: the privatization of voluntary service, the intentions behind sending countries, and how views of developing nations affect North-south relations and the motives and perceptions of Northern volunteers.

The combination of tourism and volunteering has facilitated the privatization of humanitarian efforts, a process which many authors criticize as a type of commodification (Mostafanezhad, 2014; Otoo, 2014; Vodopivec & Jaffe, 2011). These authors argue that voluntourism can make inequality seem natural and apolitical, and can encourage individual charity rather than systemic change (Mostafanezhad, 2014). Country-specific studies (Dykhuis, 2010 ; Otoo, 2014; Raymond & Hall, 2008) point to misrepresentations of service needs and host countries as a problem that stems from larger structural issues including the training and management of volunteer tourism programs. However, Butcher and Smith (2010) disagree with the view that volunteerism is a type of colonialism and suggest that these programs promote a narrative that rejects modernization. Raymond and Hall (2008) argue that voluntourism programs can promote cross-cultural understanding, but only do so when they make this a goal and manage operations well to achieve this goal.

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