When going on a service trip abroad, many people will go for their own various reasons. I recently attended a “White-Savior” complex discussion at my school about the new concept of voluntourism and lessons from this talk have really stuck with me. Voluntourists are people like myself, someone who wishes to combine volunteer work with an exotic experience abroad. As Americans, we think that we can do so much in so little time. We’ll sign up for a one-week trip to build houses in Haiti and come back with pictures and stories to tell hoping that it’ll place us in the group of the kindhearted and selfless Samaritans. We choose to go abroad because we want to experience something that our affluent lives do not offer without realizing that the same type of problems exist in the United States. So why do we still choose to give service in a different country? It’s because we all feel the need to travel and explore in addition to the fact that other people’s problems seem so much less complex and easier to fix. Our lack of knowledge of other cultures makes it easier for us to perform basic community service thinking that “anything we do” will help. With our altruistic nature, we tend to seek our own quest for experience while forgetting about the real reason for going on the mission trip in the first place. Whether it’s building houses in Haiti or a medical mission trip like this one from IHG, our typical “White-Savior” approach can be very dangerous.
When looking at the quote, “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes,” the key thing to focus on is the concept of having new eyes. In order to truly make an impact on your life and many others it’s important that we stray away from giving preference to material possessions and instead work more towards empathy and compassion. The real lesson learned is going to be from the people, not from the traveling and scenery. During this program, I know that it’s going to be extremely important to try and get to know the culture of Lima to the best of my ability. The reason we travel is to gain a first-hand experience of another culture that is not like our own. Although we are going there to impact their lives and health, this experience in return will teach us more about ourselves and our own society. It’s going to be important for us to not only correctly diagnose and give care for their injuries, but to try and truly understand why these diseases and injuries are occurring in the first place. What is it about their society and culture that makes them susceptible to poor health? Is it how the government runs? Access to care? Food? Water? These are questions that all of us should be asking ourselves throughout our trip so we can try to find a solution to their problems. Everyone in this world has so much knowledge and experience to offer, it’s just whether or not people are willing to put themselves out there and try to be empathetic and compassionate. It’s going to take a lot of adaptability, respect, and communication, but I can guarantee you that the biggest thing I’ll take away from this trip is my relationships and experience with the people rather than the places I saw. In having a new perspective, or “new eyes,” all of us will be able to help promote a more powerful global interconnectedness than what exists today.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo