Some Thoughts on “Voluntourism”

I’ve seen a few articles on “voluntourism” going around Facebook. Having just returned from Honduras, I feel the need to step up and defend mission trips, but the truth is… a lot of what these articles have to say is right. I thought this one had fair things to share from both sides.

In my opinion, the real difference is relationships.

Our previous church has been building a relationship with the people of a village in Honduras. As a church body, they have sent people twice a year to build houses and distribute food, yes, but they have done more than that. They have built school buildings and worked to get the kids of the village into school.

I love giving people things they need, like food and clothes and shelter. Those are crazy important things. But you know what I love more? Giving kids the ability to read and the desire to learn. They won’t outgrow reading. Reading won’t wear out or burn down or be taken away from them. If they can read, and they want to learn, they always have options.

The trips like the one I took this summer are also good for us. And I know some will cite that as a bad thing, but it’s not. Or, it doesn’t have to be. If you go to a third world country and return saying, “I have learned to appreciate what I have,” then, I’m sorry, but I don’t think you got it. At the very least, that is just step one, and a good documentary could have produced the same result.

Going to a third world country and making connections, building relationships, will do more than make you grateful for your own life and your own blessings. It will get in your belly and not let go. You will agonize over “Why me?” Because, really, why was I born in America with money and education and options and this child in my lap was born here with nothing or very little? And, instead of being grateful for what I have, I am burdened by it. Because what am I doing with it? Am I making the world a better place for God’s people or am I just saying thank you and building up my own storehouses a little bit more.

My trip to Honduras has brought me good stories and wonderful photographs, but if all of the pictures were lost and I could never tell you a word about the trip, the trip would still have been worth it. I met some amazing people. We have friends who live in Honduras and we listen to their wisdom in how best to help the people there. Throwing money and stuff at poverty is not the answer. Education and relationship… connection. Those are answers. Or they are the beginning of answers.

My favorite part of our trip (aside from building the house for Nattie) was Mi Esperanza. They don’t just sell ethical fashion items. They teach women skills. You can find all kinds of success stories on their website. They offer micro-loans and they pour their profits back into the community. I have my heart set on doing an internship there one summer. Because a week was not enough time in Honduras. My heart longs for more.

The way things have lined up for my Honduran experience to even happen? It is so God that I cannot begin to deny I was supposed to go there. I was supposed to meet the people I met and be changed by them. Call that “voluntourism” if you wish, but don’t dismiss it too easily. Read the articles and consider the angles and be careful about where you invest your money. Don’t rush to dismiss what someone else feels led to do. When you want to do good, you should do good. When you feel God leading, trust God’s wisdom.

I promise I will be blogging about building the Nattie house soon. I want the post to be perfect and that has kept me from writing anything. But, it’s coming, pictures and all.

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