Voluntourism is a big buzzword these days. In recent months I've come across numerous articles, mostly derisive, that discuss the topic of traveling (particularly abroad) to do volunteer work. Most of these articles focus on groups that go to third world countries and specifically those going to work at orphanages. They criticize the volunteers for having a "white savior complex" and claim they do damage by briefly coming into these children's lives, bonding, and leaving. Reading these has left me thinking about my own role as a short term missionary. Am I just as bad? I've decided no.
Our trips are short and while we do leave with children in tears, most of us do not leave to never again have contact with our campers. The digital age has made it easy to stay in contact even when we are half a world away, a huge difference from those going to the poorest countries in Africa. We can chat and share photos or videos over Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat. We can even talk "face to face" via Skype or FaceTime. Our mentoring relationships and friendships can be as close as we choose. Even when the day comes that I am no longer going to camp I know many of these relationships will continue. Also, for many of us camp is not a one and done experience. Of the 14 Americans who will be traveling to camp this year, 10 of us are repeats. I personally will be on my fifth trip. Many of our campers and counselors each year are returnees from previous years. Short term mission trip is somewhat of a misnomer as well. The duration of the trip is short, but many of us spend weeks, months, even the better part of the whole year planning activities and lessons. Because we have so many returning campers each year, we are always looking for ways to make it new, while carrying over a few favorites from previous years. Lastly, and most importantly, I can't attest to how much impact I have on anyone else at the camp, but I do know that each year the experience does teach me something. I may be traveling with the intent of being the teacher, but I leave feeling I was really the one who was the student.
|From year one to year four|