The Galleon - Portsmouth's Student Newspaper



‘Voluntourism’ May Actually Be Doing More Harm Than Good

Who gains from trips to ‘help the less fortunate’?

Countless times I have seen and heard stories of houses that were not fit for human occupancy having to be reconstructed following the aftermath of natural disasters. However, sometimes they have been renovated more than once.

There are an abundance of charities and organisations that gather volunteers to rebuild houses following disasters (such as hurricanes, forest fires and tsunamis) as well as sending people to help provide fresh water sources in developing countries or to offer support and aid in orphanages and towns.

Voluntourism is a phrase to describe people who volunteer themselves as labourers and travel to other places to help local people.

Although recently the increasingly popular phenomena of these ‘gap year projects’ has been heavily criticised by a range of sources as actually doing more harm than good. In turn it is argued that the only people who benefit in any long term way is the volunteers themselves.

J. K. Rowling is one of those people to have spoken out against voluntourism regarding Twitter appeals asking her to support or ‘advertise’ other charities through her social media or offering donations through her own children’s charity, Lumos. The author took to Twitter in a series of tweets where she explained why she does not stand for these sorts of charities, she tweeted; ‘#Voluntourism is one of drivers of family break up in very poor countries. It incentivises ‘orphanages’ that are run as businesses.’

It is hard to imagine that these are the sorts of conditions that exist elsewhere in the world however it makes sense that this is how these orphanages have found themselves being run. But hard times call for hard measures.

The Huffington Post reported that ‘…while many orphanages are set up by well-intentioned people, some are set up by unscrupulous ‘entrepreneurs’, whose sole motive is profit and who treat children as commodities.’

When reporters have looked into the well being of these children they have sometimes met several sinister truths. The Huffington Post states that in one orphanage that was closed down ‘many [children] were sick due to drinking polluted water and malnutrition. We have been able to reunite nearly all of them with their parents, who had thought they were doing the right thing for their children.’

The same charity – that reached out to J.K. Rowling on Twitter – also claim that the experience is excellent on the volunteers C.V.s. I fully except that doing good in the world is an incredibly necessary part of life however it seems like a particularly long winded way to go about it. Why not just volunteer down your local charity shop or old people’s home?

Most of these volunteers have the best intentions at heart. However there are plenty of horror stories regarding charities that ask for volunteers to rebuild homes in disaster zones. Unfortunately the volunteers are just that, very few are qualified builders and contractors and despite the trade people being on site to offer help and support there has been a few incidents in the past. These have often revolved around ill-fitting construction work of things such as stair cases, with reports of construction firms going in after the volunteers and charity groups and having to re-do the site. Often costing more than the original fee promised by the charity group.

Some volunteers actually are manipulating the system that is voluntourism in order to enact their own more villainous and sickening sides. Richard Huckle (aged 30) from the U.K. was arrested and jailed in 2017 for sexual assaults and crimes against children in orphanages in Malaysia. He volunteered as an aid worker and was given access to vulnerable children which he groomed and manipulated. Obviously this is a rare occurrence that we know of, however the fact that background checks did not flag him up meant that he was allowed to perform these acts and return several times. Huckle, originally from Ashford, faces up to twenty two life sentences after admitting to, and being found guilty of, seventy one charges, including rape, sexual assault, and sexual activity with a child.

Children in third world orphanages are often some of the most vulnerable. Although a recent study has found that more than eighty percent of all ‘orphaned’ children across the world have at least one living parent or further family.

J.K. Rowling also wrote on Twitter that, without necessarily knowing it, ‘well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages perpetuate this highly damaging system and encourage the creation of more institutions as money magnets’ as a way of supporting local economies, human traffickers or simply corrupted owners wanting easy money.

Another aspect of this term is the tourism. Very often these schemes are sold as a way for Westerners to explore other parts of the world and volunteer along side, double the experience for their buck. This has also flagged up concern in the past with some newspapers and reporters arguing that it is a system that only the few can buy into. Trips like these cost money and quite often they are for the more elite to complete as a way of gaining some skills and experiences for a well-rounded C.V. for applications to either higher education or full time work. They also function as a backdrop to some individuals to share of social media all the nice things that they have selflessly done. The comedian, Jack Whitehall has part of his stand up routine explaining his distaste for ‘gap year students’ – referring to them as ‘vapid’ in one live show and merely ‘vein’ in another. As stereotypes go, the one of the ‘gap year student’ is particularly interesting; boiling down to simply ridiculing someone for, in their eyes, going to help people in a foreign country.

I feel that if the system is to work, and it could work properly, voluntourism needs to shift to volunteering. It needs to exchange the price tag it has to open it to a range of people. The stereotype of the ‘gap year student’, one of high class and self absorbance needs to be replaced with a more open minded and genuinely caring. Although not all gap year students live up to the stereotype, most of them are down to earth people, there is a reason our societal image of them exists in that fashion.

If we help maintain this system of the institutionalisation of children it is gonna take many, many more summer holidays to reverse the problem. There is not one easy solution or instant fix to this problem, instead we have focus on how all of these current practises can actually be made more effective in the long run. Unfortunately people like Richard Huckle and the corrupt orphanage owners use these programmes to their advantage in the most desperate places in the world that are in serious need of our help. We should be improving these people’s lives, not hindering them.

This content is one individual's opinion and does not represent the opinion of The Galleon. If you disagree with this article or have any further comment to make please email

Comments are closed.