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Júlia Arenós Karsten & Marieke van der Heijden

Voluntourism is a type of holiday in which you work as a volunteer (= without being paid) to help people in the places you visit (Cambridge Dictionary). Voluntourism is a big industry in which often Western, white, middle-class youth go to low and middle-income countries. Often they work in orphanages. Recently there has been a lot of debate about whether or not voluntourism is a good or bad thing. We found this an interesting discussion and we were curious about what opinions people share both online and offline. Therefore we have analyzed a discussion on Instagram and talked to people about their views on voluntourism.

The post we have analyzed is posted on September 14, 2021. At this moment, the post had 252 comments. The post is about voluntourism. It describes what it is, and why it is bad. The images of the post can be seen on the right.

We found this interesting because lately, in the Dutch news, there have been articles about mostly evangelical youth who still do these kinds of trips. Also, EO Beam, the youth organization of the Evangelical Broadcasting recently dedicated a post to this on their Instagram page. The post appears to be an advertisement for a volunteer program in an orphanage. But when you click on it, you see a page that lists the bad sides of voluntourism. 

In order to see what people in the offline world say about voluntourism, we have talked to multiple people. These people were selected to have an as inclusive as possible range of opinions. There were 2 men and 2 women interviewed. These people come from Tanzania, Marocco, Senegal and Spain. All of them have an academic degree and are active on Instagram. Their views can be seen in the video below.

Most of the comments agree with the writer that voluntourism is bad. The comments focus on the fact that the volunteers are not qualified in what they are doing and the role of churches. Other people express that they agree with posts with clapping hands.

However, there are also people who do not agree that voluntourism is bad. Opinions that are shared are that there are exceptions to volunteers doing only bad things. With these people, @wokescientist goes into discussion. Another idea that is often mentioned is that communities don’t benefit from the volunteers, but they do benefit from the money that they are paying to volunteer. Therefore, they see voluntourism as something positive.

There are also people who express uncertainty about voluntourism. They highlight the pros and cons. @wokescientist responds to these comments with her view about what is wrong with the pros mentioned.

Reflection

We found it very interesting to combine the online and offline world in one research. It showed us the possibilities to incorporate social media in academic research. 

Something we found very striking in the interviews, is that the people who are from African countries don't view voluntourism as badly as 'Western” people. This is an interesting observation because the writer of the earlier analyzed Instagram post is based in The United States. Therefore, it is very possible that her followers are also “Western”. This is important to realize because this possibly influences their view on neocolonialism. 

Bibliography

Cambridge Dictionary. Accessed on 19-10-2021. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/voluntourism

Chouhan, Shambhavi. 2017. “The dark side of voluntourism”. Accessed on 19-10-2021.https://www.redpers.nl/2017/06/28/the-dark-side-of-voluntourism/

EO Beam. 2021a. Instagram post. Accessed on 19-10-2021. https://www.instagram.com/p/CUxxrqzsxZI/

EO Beam. 2021b. “LET OP: Vrijwilligers voor in een buitenlands weeshuis gezocht! (gratis)”. Accessed on 19-10-2021. https://beam.eo.nl/artikel/let-op-vrijwilligers-voor-in-een-buitenlands-weeshuis-gezocht-gratis?utm_campaign=later-linkinbio-eobeam&utm_content=later-21248878&utm_medium=social&utm_source=linkin.bio

@wokescientist. 2021. Instagram post. Accessed on 19-10-2021. https://www.instagram.com/p/CT0FrBqvTTN/