Voluntourism is the practice of combining volunteer work with tourism, which has become an increasingly popular form of vacation for some people. Examples of voluntourism include building schools in Uganda or playing with children at orphanages in Cambodia. While the sentiments of volunteers are often sincere, and they genuinely do desire to help the communities that they visit, the consequences of such activities can be problematic for locals. The primary issue with voluntourism is that it exists to help the volunteer tourist feel better about himself or herself, instead of doing what is best for the community.
In many instances, because volunteers are helping to fund a project such as a new library or water well, they feel entitled to be involved in the actual construction of the project. This is problematic in a variety of ways: first and foremost, the volunteer might not have the necessary skills to participate in the creation of the project. Instead of being a help, they are a hindrance and the project must be shifted in such a way as to allow the person to be involved. It is also possible that qualified local craftspeople are not being given jobs that would allow them to provide for their families and boost the local economy if volunteers are being utilized.
Additionally, individual projects might not be part of a larger development plan for the community and are therefore ineffective. If a library is built but funds are not allocated for new books on a regular basis, then there is not a plan in place and the library is useless. If strangers parade through an orphanage entertaining children but do not actually invest in the children in any meaningful or long-term capacity, then attachment disorders are formed in vulnerable kids. This also fails to provide any sort of long-term benefit. Community and societal improvement can and should occur, but this should happen in the context of a long-term growth plan that takes a variety of factors into account. A week-long voluntourism project probably will not satisfy those requirements.
Potential participants in voluntourism should pause and engage in serious self-reflection. Do they want to help others, or do they want to make themselves feel better? The two goals are not mutually exclusive, but it is vital that people be aware of and sensitive to the inherent problems with voluntourism.