(American Conservative) -- It’s a rite of passage in upper-middle-class America: the volunteer trip to some impoverished Third World country followed by the new Facebook profile picture with a couple of doe-eyed orphans. The ritual springs from a well-intentioned desire to help those in need and form connections across boundaries of nationality, race, and class. But do these trips actually do much good? Writing for Al Jazeera America, columnist Rafia Zakaria makes the case that they don’t. “The problem with voluntourism,” she writes, “is its singular focus on the volunteer’s quest for experience, as opposed to the recipient community’s actual needs.”
“Voluntourist” laborers can “crowd out local workers” because these volunteers work for free. What’s more, as Britain’s Daily Telegraph noted last year, some “ethical tourism” companies are backing away from orphanage-volunteering trips after learning that many of the orphans they were helping were not actually orphans—three out of four kids in Cambodian orphanages and nine of 10 in Ghanaian orphanages actually had parents.