Rafia Zakaria has a great piece on The White Tourist’s Burden for Al Jazeera America:
In recent years, the ethics of voluntourism, especially its underbelly of exploitation, have been questioned by academics and activists alike. Most of the debate, however, is limited to questioning whether volunteer vacations do more harm than good or how it promotes stereotypes that fuel the engines of a burgeoning white-savior industrial complex.
Typically other people’s problems seem simpler, uncomplicated and easier to solve than those of one’s own society. In this context, the decontextualized hunger and homelessness in Haiti, Cambodia or Vietnam is an easy moral choice. Unlike the problems of other societies, the failing inner city schools in Chicago or the haplessness of those living on the fringes in Detroit is connected to larger political narratives. In simple terms, the lack of knowledge of other cultures makes them easier to help.
Rafia Zakaria’s article partially answers why Amanda Peet went all the way to Kenya to advocate for vaccines instead of visiting the 1.6 million Americans that don’t have indoor plumbing according to Pew Research, for example.
Amanda Peet,writing for Global Moms Relay at Huffington Post on her trip to Kenya:
When I went to the villages outside Kisumu I met mothers who had walked for miles, and waited for hours in long lines to get their infants vaccinated. Some of the mothers made the choice to become health workers as well and spent their time going door to door to alert families that a vaccination campaign was coming to their village.
While I support Shot@Life’s efforts on vaccination, my criticism is aimed at all of us. The use of celebrities as spokespeople is a gaming tactic to get us to pay attention to an issue we otherwise gloss over. My mother participated in the Global Mom’s Relay with this piece she wrote last year, but I am quite sure no one paid attention to it compared to the many people who will pay attention to photos of Amanda Peet surrounded by smiling and grateful Kenyans. I suppose that’s the inevitable small price to pay for moving the needle forward on global health issues.
However, that small success doesn’t absolve the profitable voluntourism industry from its shortcomings.