The Missionary Face and Voluntourism

The articles this week really made me begin to confront the privilege of being white that I was born with but haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding. Many times throughout reading these articles I found myself feeling a range of emotions from shocked, embarrassed, defensive, to guilty and that doesn’t even scratch the surface. I reflect on these readings as eye opening, but by no means conclusive. Just because I have now been exposed to ‘white privilege’ does not mean that I can consider this an open and shut case. There is much more to learn about myself and other people.

There were two articles in particular that stuck with me the most. The first article of note, “Difficult Dialogues About Service Learning” answered some of my questions but also created new questions. This article was exciting to read because when I first looked at it and skimmed the sections, I saw that some of the subheadings where the very questions I have been struggling with. And it helped to reassure me that while many of my questions cannot always be answered succinctly, there are many others who struggled and sometimes succeed with the same questions.

The other article I want to bring up is Warren and Hytten’s “The Faces of Whiteness: Pitfalls and the Critical Democrat;” specifically the section talking about ‘The Missionary face’. While reading this section I notice some similarities to the idea of “voluntourism” and also why service learning trips have more recently been getting a bad image. The Missionary face is characterized as a person who is focused only on the action part of service and doesn’t seek more information and is not content to “just talk” about the social issue in question. They also believe that they have all the answers, or at least a clear picture of what they need to do to “fix” the problem. “Voluntourism” is the idea that these days, students go on volunteer trips and do a bit of service and get to go on vacation at the same time. This idea has garnered criticisms that are very much like the qualities of The Missionary face. Ideas that the people traveling to other countries to help are just focused on the “doing good” without understanding the social issue or the culture of the people they hope to help. This leads to greater risk of causing more harm then good and is something that we should all be aware of when we meet the Lost Boys. Service learning trips like ours need to cast aside the negative aspects of The Missionary face because those qualities are why many people today don’t see the benefits of trips like ours.

Becky

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