Saturday, 14 June 2014

#SWEDOW and Voluntourists

SWEDOW, or, "Stuff We Don't Want" is often written about in the development community referring to well-meaning people sending useless, often demeaning things to developing countries under the guise of development. The worst examples include sending used bras to Malaysia "give a lift to women", old shoes to Africa or "little dresses for Africa". I don't want to get into why this model is wrong, it is skillfully written about by, Weh Yeoh, and Tom Murphy on several occasions. If there was a discourse built around SWEDOW, I would argue that voluntourism and related activities would fall under its' broader umbrella, and that what is considered to be 'voluntourism' is, indeed something that is not wanted and can often be useless, harmful, and degrading.

It is a task too large to tackle, but I will try to generalize here what the main issues are, and why voluntourism is most definitely SWEDOW.

      1. It undermines long-term, structural development efforts in the same way that TOMS shoes and others provide economically unviable, quick fix models for structural issues.
      2. It may be hard to believe, but untrained, privileged children and young adults are not qualified for construction work, social work or even to play football. This Huff Post article tells the story of a rich white girl going to build a library in Tanzania which resulted in their shoddy workmanship needing to be entirely re-finished by locals every night after they went to sleep. 
      3. It has been proven time and time again in development discourse that the minimum time required to be working in a single area is six months, which is even too short. Kids going to work for 2 weeks (or less) or desperately short of this goal.
      4. This type of SWEDOW further perpetuates ideas of people in developing countries as being lazy, unknowledgeable and dependent on outsiders.
These issues barely scratch the surface of everything that is wrong with voluntourism, and related activities. We can start by shutting down "great" programs like ME to WE which are to development what inactive pools of water are to fighting malaria.

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