The ethics of voluntourism
How the “voluntourism” industry affects local communities and how you can have an ethical experience that benefits not only you but your host country too
Overseas volunteering has an estimated annual worth of £1.1-1.7bn (€1.6-2.4bn; $1.7-2.6bn).1 The booming industry has been called “voluntourism.” Many medical students volunteer overseas during their holidays, and 40% of UK medical students opt to spend their electives in a resource poor country.2 But where is this demand coming from, and what impact does it have on students and the communities they visit?
Two years ago, after my first year of medical school, I signed up to a medical outreach project in southern Ghana. Before long I became aware that the placement was less about realising how I could help the local community and more about selling an experience. During one trip to a local orphanage, my supervisor drew a camera from his rucksack. “Photos to remember your trip,” he grinned, as the children were shooed into line for the picture. None of them had been asked whether they consented to