Medical voluntourism can be characterized as short trips abroad to developing countries to provide voluntary medical care. As medical school acceptance rates and urges are increasing year by year, many students look for ways to make their applications stand out from the rest, and what helps more than volunteer hours serving in the countries of Tanzania, Ghana, Cambodia, India, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Honduras? Medical voluntourism may seem like a noble act at first glance but as one broadens their knowledge it can have a detrimental act on the people and the country visited. However, the question of rather or not voluntourism is harmful is flipped to how ones medical desire to serve is viewed by the variety of people and cultures they intend to aid in the world.
Consider the text “life-changing”. As providers volunteer to pause their lives in order to travel across the world to lend a helping hand, the opportunity abroad should be life-changing for both the volunteer and the people in the community. However in a providers mindset, they are only there to do good, but that is not what always gets accomplished through no fault of their own. As a provider, according to Chawla and Wang and their website, “Health Care Voluntourism on the Rise”, goals of a volunteer involve; doing one’s best to make the community better than it was before, help those who will accept it, and to thrive off off the urge to make the world a better place.
As one may hope, sadly a single volunteer cannot make a change within each of their short time in the place they decide to serve in. However, building classrooms that will ensure young children receive an education, teaching locals the English language, and installing running water, that is life-changing. One may argue that a volunteer can make no difference at all, and in some countries, residents believe they are better off without any help from foreigners. However, in the mind of a true medical provider, no harm is a possibility. It is the hope according to author “Ahmed” that volunteers will have a new perspective on the community they serve in through their personal voluntourism, they seek to not only make a difference but act long enough to see it, and their experience is greater than just having two weeks abroad.
Despite there being no harm possible in the mind of a provider, for every patient, every community, every country where help is offered, it is reacted to in multiple different ways. Ultimately through research of each country volunteers believe need their acts of service, not all accept their help with welcoming arms. According to Sullivan and her article, “The Trouble with Voluntourism”, after studying the volunteer patient interactions since 2011 in the country of Tanzania, research shows some help does indeed cause harm. For example, as many young undergrad students are excited to make a difference, prospective volunteers are placed regardless of experience levels or education in the foreign language for the very place they wish to serve.
It is also shown that medical schools recommend or require that applicants have clinical experiences which leads to these students doing procedures abroad such as vaccines, pulling teeth, and delivering babies. All of which students could potentially go wrong about and end up leaving the place they wished to help worse off than when they arrived. Due to this, many countries around the world like Tanzania are fearful and don’t welcome or invite the help many volunteers want to offer. When help harms, it destroys the relationship a patient must have with their provider and puts everyone at risk and can sometimes result in permanent damage, and increases patients risk of death. Ultimately, volunteers wish to help and their good intentions have to be redirected to the focus of who they’re helping and why they’re there, to begin with, to help those who cannot help themselves. Putting those people first will conclusively ensure help does no harm.
Clearly, voluntourism is a debate that is widely discussed. After personal research through both the eyes and mindsets of the medical providers and the patients, it is my conclusion and argument that medical voluntourism is a helpful good dead. Despite irresponsible travel being deplorable, it is without a doubt that when placed in a proper setting, individuals both providers and patients have an unimaginable experience when volunteering abroad. There are reasons voluntourism has become so widely popular. Ideally, the experience involves the exchange of skills, humanity, and culture. According to the author, “Occhipinti” the act of voluntourism reflects on the human need to, “develop a human connection”, even though a language barrier could very well be present, “to learn from the locals and grasp a new kind of life that one can learn and thrive on, and to contribute to give back,” after all, the whole purpose of volunteering is to give someone the gift of which they cannot bear themselves, and finally, “to grow and create meaning”.
Benefits from voluntourism that patients receive are, needed skills that are taught and learned, necessary funds are provided, and bonds are made from the community to the volunteer. In order to qualify as a volunteer, one must possess certain skills that can be taught abroad. English teaching, engineering, and medical skills are all common intelligence volunteers acquire in order to teach overseas. This can reflect on a favorite proverb, “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for life.” Volunteers are also not just paying for their way to go lend a hand for two weeks, organizations such as “Give a Heart to Africa” are created by the very volunteers that pay fees to provide the ongoing funding to keep people traveling and keep the idea of “making a difference” alive. Through the act of volunteering, located in one’s international service is the idea that someone outside of the host community is someone who cares and wants to make a difference in the world.
When someone within the community comes face to face with a volunteer who is present to make just that become a reality, a bond of gratefulness and gratitude is formed, a bond that has value and is something that should not only be shared but learned from. Benefits for the volunteer include the development of one’s skills and through the experience develops new ones, emotional intelligence, creativity, and problem-solving skills, and the becoming of a global citizen where within their experience their outlook on the world shifts and begins to understand a new perspective. Volunteering will satisfy the need to serve, and to give what we can to those who need help. However, becoming a volunteer not only means doing what you can for an outlandish community, but skills are also accelerated by encountering new problems one can not encounter by sitting at a desk facing their own normality everyday problems. For example, author Sandy Wang shares her experience in a school of Estonia where she helped local students with their education. This not only improved her students but improved her speaking and teaching skills.
Benefits go a long way for both the volunteers and the patients, and that’s exactly what voluntourism should do. Researching the questions of, “is voluntourism harmful” can be answered in a variety. However, when a volunteer is placed where help is not only needed but accepted, the goals for both the provider and the patient are achieved, relationships are formed, unforgettable memories are made, and a real impact not only to the lives being served but to the volunteer are made. That is the difference made in the world.