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Now that the new year is upon us, some of you might have some kind of resolution to go and do something good for some poor people somewhere in the world.  You’re probably young and idealistic and ready to take on the world. What better way than a short term service trip to get you started right?

Wrong.  Well, maybe.

Good intentions.  However, you have to be really careful about these trips.

According to the author of this article on “7 reasons why your two week trip to Haiti doesn’t matter,

…these types of trips often exploit the people and communities they pretend to help. Worse, these short-term service self-fulfillment trips can end up doing more harm than good.

She calls these trips “voluntourism.”  In other words, people are going to get an experience and if other people actually get helped in the process, great.

If you are seriously planning on doing one of these trips, please read the article.  The author makes seven great points and offers some alternatives.  And she points to an awesome spoof on these relief efforts – Radi-Aid: Africans for Norway.  Instead of telling you more about it, here’s the video.


Here’s a few things you need to know.  I’ve worked for a non-profit before.  We had groups that wanted to come in for a week to do service work.  Often we had to put aside the work we were doing in order to accommodate these groups.  The groups ended up being more work than they were worth often.  We usually had to create jobs that we would have never done before.  You’d think having a large group would be a blessing to a non-profit.  Sometimes it was, but often it wasn’t.  For most non-profits, they have plenty of small jobs that need to be done – things for 1 or two people to work on at a time.  But there are relatively few jobs that require a large group of people to work on.  And these jobs require a great deal of planning and time away from the immediate needs being addressed.

Here’s the lesson.  If you want to take a service trip contact the organization you are going to work with and find out what they really need done.  Find out what skills would be really helpful.  Find out what kind of lasting impact will take place, if any at all.  Do some research.

If you want to travel and see the world, then do that.  I’m with you on that.  But don’t fool yourself into believing that you can do both effectively.