There’s a difference between doing charity to make a difference and doing charity to feel good about yourself. One requires far less effort – and may actually do harm in the long run.
The reason I’ve been inspired to write about this is because I’m a huge fan of this blog post critical of “hug-an-orphan” trips and charities.
If you’ve ever traveled to the developing world, you know what I’m talking about: you hear of some school for poor children (and/or an orphanage) that lets you volunteer for however much time you can spare. You can also photograph and film until your heart’s content – without restrictions.
And, especially nowadays, you can even book a trip just to go abroad to help people. It’s called voluntourism. And, unfortunately, it’s nothing like the long-term work required in the Peace Corps or VSO.
While I’ve had a hard time teaming up with big charities, I’ve had plenty of unrestricted offers by smaller charities, schools, and orphanages in Bangladesh to come over, film, photograph, and help the kids there.
And, you know what? That raises a huge red flag for me.
An open-door, unrestricted, policy on filming, photography, and volunteering to anyone who shows up is often not in the best interest of children and is more about making the volunteer feel good about themselves.
As the blog post critical of such establishments points out:
Generally volunteers will only stay at the orphanage [or school] for a few days, weeks, or at best months. While at the orphanage most volunteers seek to build emotional bonds with the children so they can feel they made a difference. Unfortunately, although well intended, this leads to a never ending round of abandonment for the orphans.
As much as it delays things, it’s actually a good sign when there’ s at least a bit of a struggle to film & photograph. I love it when I get treated with skepticism, prodding questions, and subjected to background checks.
You know why? It shows they actually give a damn about those they help. These hoops also filter out those who want to help just to feel good about themselves – and those who want to actually make a difference.