Global Studies speaker Jesse Moore visited Morristown-Beard School on Tuesday, February 4th to speak with Upper School students about the impact and motivation of young people who volunteer abroad.
Moore, who is a field instructor with Where There Be Dragons, spoke about the pitfalls of “voluntourism” – a growing trend that is a combination of volunteering and tourism – and drew upon his own experiences and observations as a long-term volunteer in the Western Highlands of Guatemala.
“Voluntourism has become a huge industry today, and while people’s intentions may be good, the truth is that not all experiences have the same impact,” Moore said.
He noted that the voluntourism model is inherently faulty because volunteers often have a lack of experience; it’s too short-term to be helpful; it could cause physical and psychological harm; and it’s inefficient. “Outsiders will go in with an attitude that they’re there to help, but outsiders don’t always know better,” said Moore. “They may not understand the situation, and people aren’t always just waiting around to be saved.”
Moore said that in he fell into this pitfall when he began volunteering in Guatemala. At first, he thought he would have an advantage because he studied Spanish in school and had fundraising experience. The reality was much harsher than he expected, however, when he soon found himself not understanding the dialect and encountering other cultural barriers.
He said the key to having a meaningful experience is to shift the emphasis and put your own learning first. “You need to think of it as ‘learning service’ rather than ‘service learning.’ Put learning first because that’s the main goal,” said Moore. “You need to learn from others before you can help them.”
Moore also asked the students to consider ways that they can help their own communities on a daily basis.