“Development Porn” and the Making of a Responsible Volunteer

CameraI finally stepped out of the restaurant, and a gust of cool, fresh air filled my lungs. After being at an international affairs happy hour for the previous two hours, I felt energized after hearing about some exciting projects that my peers were running, but my thoughts were still scrambled. Simply put, I was still trying to make sense of it all, and I just needed time to clear my head.

Naturally then, the plan then was to grab pizza.

Earlier that evening, I had met two wonderful graduate students in the international affairs space, and I had decided to hang out with them after the event. It was a perfect night – freshly baked, thin-crust pizza; lots of laughter; and new conversations.

What I didn’t expect to be the table that night? As one of my new acquaintances had so succinctly put it, “development porn“.

“Development porn”, or the notion of photographing children in developing countries to support foreign aid initiatives, isn’t a new concept or one that will send shock waves  throughout the international development community. In an academic sense, it’s one that’s been discussed as something that can affect consumers and charitable donors to nonprofits or non-governmental organizations. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s ethical nor is it a component of responsible travel. At the same time, this isn’t a topic that’s discussed on a daily basis.

Bringing this topic the forefront last May, Everyday Ambassador partnered with an organization called Learning Service. In our resource partnership, we had a webinar called “No Selfies with Cute Babies!”, and it highlighted best practices when volunteering abroad and working with children. For this edition of Bucket List, as a part of today’s World Tourism Day, we encourage you to reflect on these best practices when you embark on your next study abroad experience, volunteer assignment, or vacation abroad. Here are some tips and tricks to get you started:

Before you travel

  • Read up on the local cultures. Learn a few words of their language and some of their customs. It’s important to keep in mind the social fabric that exists before your arrival and how you might impact it when you do arrive.
  • When possible, ask someone from that culture for tips on cultural normsSometimes there can be a clash in value systems when entering a culture that’s different from you own. What better way to get perspective on new norms than someone who had lived themselves?
  • Minimize what you bring. Be mindful of other culture’s perspective on space. For those coming from a Western upbringing, this may seem like a strange concept, but there are places in the world where space is seen as more communal than personal.
  • Read up on any key social and economic issues and remain sensitive to them. Be aware that your perspective as a foreigner may not be entirely welcome, so exercise discretion when addressing certain topics. At the same time, read the news as early as you can to get  a snapshot of the important topics that are affecting that society today. Sometimes it is possible to help, and seek opportunities to do so, especially when your skill set matches with an already identified need.

While travelingil_570xN.394741637_lv6j

  • Immerse yourself in the local culture. Befriend locals, make that human connection beyond your guide book, and see your new destination in new ways! At the same time, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Remember that asking someone how they preferred to be called or how something should be addressed is better than presuming.
  • Allow yourself to be surprised. While it’s important to come in with a certain level of knowledge, keep an open mind. Try new things, challenge yourself, and allow yourself to enjoy something you might not have experienced before.
  • Be mindful of sacred spaces. Though it’s always exciting to see new places, some spaces are closed off to tourists because they hold a certain significance to the local culture. Respect this notion, and you’ll be in a much better position.
  • Adjust your diet and water intake accordingly. Realize that not all cultures use water to the same degree and that people eat different foods based on tradition, access, seasonal availability, and affordability. When in doubt, do like the locals do.
  • Don’t take pictures of people or children just for the sake of social media. I’m looking at you, Instagram lovers. Think before you click.
  • Do your research on what might be ethical souvenirs. Taking a piece of a sacred monument doesn’t count, folks.

After traveling

  • Do reflect on your experience. When you do so, you have a greater chance of informing others on what how to responsibly travel to that location.
  • Talk your experience over with others. This point reflects on an earlier suggestion to ask before presuming. When you travel, make a list of questions or points you’d like to discuss with someone who had been to that part of the world before, and talk it over.
  • Make suggestions and call out injustices. Do make suggestions to your volunteer program, travel group, or company on what you experienced and how they can make a next trip better with these responsible travel tips in mind. At the same time, call out points for improvement.

Now it’s your turn: Do you have any other tips or tricks for responsible travel or service? For additional information, check out our partner Learning Service. They have a number of additional, educational resources on this topic.

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“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador brand strategist Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

Image Credit: Pinterest.com, Etsy.com



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