If you read Palms Facebook you will see that we posted an article from the Betoota Advocate last week. It uses biting satire to hit on nearly everything that’s wrong with voluntourism. They make it clear enough that ultimately voluntourism is all about the tourist and the profit of the tour company rather than the communities they go to “help”.
The sadder thing is voluntourism plays into the still persuasive neo-colonial perspective that Western Civilisation has the answers for all good development. There are some wonderful elements to Western culture, but it can also restrict our thinking, and some would argue, is sending us into a spiral of unsustainability. That aside, much of the way we do things often has little application elsewhere.
Palms volunteers do their best work when we are able to somewhat deconstruct the paternalistic thinking before they engage in another culture. It is the basis of our preparation, but well-meaning voluntourists, with “spare” weeks during their holiday don’t do preparation. Being time poor they are sold a quick “immersion” in a community where they can patronise with their own particular application of loving colonial “competence”.
Those seeking Palms help for their holiday plans are advised that communities find short-term visitors difficult to integrate into any meaningful project, or community life. This can be met with petulance, and that is not just from the 19 year old girls cited in the Betoota article. Last month I was told by someone, needing somewhere to offer her help, that I was wrong not to send her uninvited, when clearly the poor needed someone just like her.
Very little thought is given to the fact that local communities manage their own development. It is often expected Palms is, or should be in control. Aid agencies do sometimes project that approach. One with whom we were funding a joint project gave us a negative evaluation for not telling our local partners how things have to be done. Interdependence and solidarity are in their publicity, but clearly not in their practice.
As Beth Doherty wrote recently in Eureka Street, Catholic schools and some school systems reinforce everything that the Betoota lampoons. Orphanage trips and slumdog tourism is used more for the “lesson” it gives to us than any useful assistance. The dignity of others exploited for the worst lesson ever: the poor are (and always will be) dependant. The principles of solidarity and a sustainable world through interdependence is lost, or never really considered.
We can change this. Getting a ticket to Palms July 14th Event: “Cultural Diversity: Replacing Fear with Fulfilment” will provide those attending with some very practical ways to deconstruct our thinking on appropriate engagement for solidarity. https://www.palms.org.au/…/2018-solidarity-awards…/