My main interest lies in documentary photography. In 2013 i started working on the project Voluntourism , investigating the phenomenon of mixing volunteer work with vacation. As the larger NGOs and more established volunteer agencies,...
Teaching volunteers are usually young and inexperienced, doing a gap year or just visiting for as short as two weeks. The total amount a volunteer pays to be teaching for a month, including plane tickets and insurances, could cover an educated teachers salary for about four to five years in Malawi.
Garden in a volunteer compound including a private stretch of the beach. The volunteers have a private chef that prepares all the meals for them. Drinks and food are all included in the price of 1450 dollars for a 4 week program.
Volunteering is the new backpacking. A wish to get out of the touristy areas and experience genuine culture. By helping you get a context and a reason to be there. But if you go on an arranged volunteering trip without consideration and thought, a well established ”we and them” thinking can easily increase the social, cultural and economical gap rather than decrease it. This gets even more evident when the, in relation, extremely wealthy volunteers - a volunteering trip often costs several years of annual income in the country you visit - stays in guarded compounds, sometimes with their own chef and maid, to only do daily visits to the real world outside, to help ”them”. Working as a volunteer could be a more sustainable way to travel than, for example, charter and backpacking. There are a plethora of companies, organizations and agencies that offer volunteer travel in different forms. Some are good, but many are not sustainable and some are downright counter-productive because of the way they work and act against the local community. If the volunteer stays in a nice house it can be assumed that a smaller portion of the money goes to charity. A Swedish agency says for example that up to $160 goes to the local project you are working on - it's not even a tenth of the total sum paid for a 4-week volunteer program. There is a lot of partying, safaris and other tourist activities offered to the volunteers.
I started reflecting on this as a couple of friends where off to India to do volunteer work and then continue on backpacking, they told em that the local organisation they stayed at asked them for money as they where done with a two month voulnteer trip, although they had already payed a substational amount to the organizing company in Sweden. I started digging around and immedietly found that prices where quite steep and that not much of the money where going to the people who where supposed to get "help". After a couple of weeks in the field shooting this project i started realising that it might not be as much about the money. Its more about the approach and attidue of the volunteers.
I wanted to do a project which reflected more of my own background and culture.And so the focus of this whole series are the actual volunteers. A look in the mirror if you want.
I plan to continue working on this with a trip to south east asia during the end of this year or beginning of 2018.