I have traveled. I have volunteered. Yet until recently, I had never had the experience of traveling for the sake of service work. Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism, although not a new concept, is a growing trend among millennials, especially those attending university. It seems everyone I know has gone a service trip or alternative break at some point during their adolescent or post adolescent years. Participating in one of these trips usually involves paying thousands of dollars to travel with a group to a foreign country to work on a particular service project for one or two weeks. Often the money needed for the trip is raised through crowd funding sites like Go Fund Me. The problem with these trips is that little if any of the money spent on the trip ever goes towards tangible aid. Many would argue that $2,000 could be much better spent if given directly to the organization. It can also be said that one or two weeks is not enough time to make a real, lasting change. The time and money voluntourists spend on their trips just doesn’t add up.
This summer, I decided to participate in a service trip to India with the Chinmaya Organization for Rural Development. For six weeks, we are living in the village of Thamaraipakkam, Tamil Nadu, learning about and assisting with different projects that aim to strengthen communities through the empowerment of women and children. Our trip is different from most voluntourism adventures, because we are here for an extended stay of a month and a half. Still, this experience has given me a new appreciation and understanding of all kinds of service trips no matter the size or cost. Although these trips may not be an extremely effective way of addressing a global problem, they are an exceptional way of raising awareness. Through participating in service trips, young adults become personally connected with the people and problems they see. This connection is something that participants will take with them when they leave and carry for the rest of their lives. This personal connection is invaluable. People are much more likely to contribute to a cause, if they can understand it first hand. As for the money spent on voluntarism, is still true that $2,000 would be better spent if given directly to an organization, but the truth is that many would not raise or donate if a trip were not involved. And if it is between spending money on a service trip or service-less vacation, a service trip is a good why to go. Finally, we never know what effect even the smallest of our actions will have. If I can make any impact at all, it is time well spent. So travel on, fellow voluntourists! Together, we will change the world.