by Sheri Krumm, Development Coordinator, Empower Tanzania
Voluntourism vol·un·tour·ism noun
The act of traveling to a developing country for the purpose of volunteering time and labor to build a project, often followed by time as a tourist in said country.
Today, I read an article by a woman named Pippa Biddlien called The Problem With Little White Girls (and boys) - Why I stopped being a voluntourist. She described going as a student to Tanzania to build a school. Each night, after the students finished putting their brick walls together for the day, the local men would tear down their (shoddy) work, and rebuild it so that in the morning, this group of white kids would think their work actually made a difference….instead of what it really made, which was extra work.
It was a wonderful illustration of a concept that we have found to be true. When a new volunteer for Empower Tanzania prepares to take their first trip over, they often ask, “so what can we DO while we are there? I’d love to volunteer to do some work!” We then gently try to explain that there isn’t really any physical WORK to do. Our job is more like an ambassador. We visit, we sing & dance, we have meetings, we encourage people, and we are shown to project sites where Tanzanians are doing the real work of Empower Tanzania’s projects. We then praise them for their amazing accomplishments.
For some, that is not a very satisfying answer, and we can see the disappointment in their eyes. What is the point of going if we don’t DO something?
Our answer is that in fact, as a volunteer traveling with us, you will be doing something.
You will be learning You will be listening You will be observing You will be asking questions You will be joining with Tanzanians to sing and dance and have fun You will hold babies You will play with children You will sit in the middle of poverty and experience amazing generosity You will eat local food You will be welcomed in people's homes You will leave in awe of the work our staff and volunteers are doing You will see lives changing You will give hope You will fall in love
You will build relationships that you will never forget, and they will change your life. Then, we hope that you will become so passionate about what it means to EMPOWER Tanzanians instead of HELPING Tanzanians, that you will join us on this side of the pond doing the thing for which Americans are uniquely talented….we hope you will tell the story of what we do, and help us find the funds to continue doing it.
If this concept speaks to you, let us know! There are a whole bunch of crazy people at Empower Tanzania who believe that if we do the right things with the right spirit, we really can change the world, and we would love for you to join us!