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JK Rowling Reveals the Ugly Truth Behind Voluntourism

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We all know JK Rowling is boss. The legendary author whose characters captured the hearts of many has stood up for LGBT rights, diverse representation in her movies, and the welfare system. To add to her impressive progressive resume, this bad-ass British icon has once again reminded us how awesome she is by revealing the dark truth behind an issue that plagues the idealist mindset: Voluntourism.

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Voluntourism, or international volunteering, is the term that includes work for organizations or causes in foreign countries. Westerners often embark on 'projects' that involve building a temporary medical clinic, an orphanage visit, school construction, and the popular teaching English during a college vacation or during a gap year, as discussed in New York Times. The purpose of voluntourism is to "help" but more often than not, it is also to build up a resume and to experience the good feelings of charity work.

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While the motivation behind voluntourism may be partially rooted in altruism, it often causes real damage, especially in orphanages. "Orphan Tourism"- allows volunteers to act as surrogate caregivers for children whose parents have died or cannot support them. It has unfortunately become so popular that orphanages are creating false and depressing conditions to try to coax volunteers to donate more money. In reality, many orphans' parents are alive and well and with the money that volunteers spend on flights, they could support the family, who will provide a lifetime of care for their children, via New York Times.

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JK Rowling was asked to support a volunteer travel company that specialized in “Orphan Tourism." Instead of support, she served a blistering attack on Twitter, revealing some of the harsh consequences for international volunteering. In one of her tweets she wrote, “I will never retweet appeals that treat poor children as opportunities to enhance Westerners' Cvs.”

Perhaps, no else has captured this notion more hysterically and correctly than Barbie Savior, a parody designed to poke at selfies in Africa. Through a series of pictures, the women behind the Instagram account reveal that while volunteering abroad may seem harmless it is rooted in a dark past. “The attitude that Africa needs to be saved from itself, by Westerners, can be traced back to colonialism and slavery,” as discussed in the Huffington Post.

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JK Rowling is advocating  for money better spent on programs that have long-term and sustainable effects, not short projects. Her tweets have exposed the realities of a type of travel that is becoming increasingly popular. I hope travelers will think twice before embarking on idealist volunteer opportunities. 

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Top Photo courtesy of Twitter

This post was published on August 22, 2016 

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Patricia is a writer, activist, and aspiring journalist. She likes writing about politics, sexuality, and feminism. She is a bit of a wanderer and has lived in Morocco, Australia, and India. Recently moved to Brooklyn, she is currently learning to navigate NYC subways.

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