What ARE we talking about? Poverty Porn, Volunteer Service & Global Service-Learning

Bad forms of international service are wretched, but not all international service is done poorly. To put it mildly, there is a big difference between experiencing a one-week orphanage tourism junket and carefully developing the cross-cultural and engineering skills of students and community members as part of expanding sustainable, safe water access.

Unfortunately, many of the most popular critiques of international volunteering fail to recognize this basic insight. To have an informed conversation about good and bad global service and partnership, we must cultivate our abilities to discuss these issues with clarity.

Part of the genesis for this website came from the observation that there is significant rich thinking about development partnerships online, often generated by development practitioners rather than conventional academics. One example is Aaron Ausland’s Poverty Tourism Taxonomy 2.0, pictured below:

PovertyTourismTaxonomy

Ausland’s Taxonomy is extraordinarily helpful as an initial effort to visually represent the profound amount of diversity of interventions in and around global service and community development claims. The way in which it was developed positions service-learning within an education subset that is separate from the volunteerism subset. I would argue that these two areas are not so clearly distinct, in both negative and positive ways.

First, the negative: sometimes high schools, colleges, and universities oversee orphanage tourism volunteer experiences or other weak forms of service programming. Such experiences do not display any of the best practices that have been developed over time in the global service-learning literature.

Second, and, more positive, some NGOs, faith groups, and co-curricular sections of educational institutions are advancing extremely thoughtful global partnership programming absent accreditation. Indeed, cooperative programming across cultures is central to many global civil society efforts. Best practice principles do not require earning academic credit, though credit structures do create time and space.

Academic credit can do a great deal to ensure that students engage deeply with particularly challenging development questions before, during, and after their direct community engagement experiences, such as is suggested in this growing collection of global service-learning syllabi. Facilitated learning clearly enhances intercultural competence and students’ dispositions toward respectful engagement in communities.

But, just like is true for all things called “international service” at the moment, not all global service-learning is created equally. There are many different variables in any GSL intervention.

I’ve recently completed a piece for a forthcoming volume edited by Jagla & Furco,  Service-learning pedagogy: How does it measure up? In that work I began to map out the different components of variation within community-university partnerships. Here’s a glimpse at one of the tables:

Variation across Service-Learning Interventions

Slide1

Bottom line: It’s sloppy thinking to put orphanage tourism in the same bucket as enhanced engineering capacity for a whole region, along with expanded water access for more than 30,000 people. There are numerous different kinds of service intervention. At this website, we’re going to continue to gather resources to demonstrate evidence-based understanding of outcomes for communities and participants in cooperative development processes. If you’d like to see improvements in the quality of the conversation on voluntourism and other forms of international service, please share this post. Thank you for reading.


Eric Hartman is an Assistant Professor in the School of Leadership Studies at Kansas State University and serves as editor of globalsl.org.

The photo at the top of this page was provided by DukeEngage.

 

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  • Cathy Hamilton

    This blog provides a much needed resource for those of us attempting to expand international service-learning initiatives on our campuses. Thank you, Eric!

  • sallie grayson

    agree Cathy its an excellent resource thankyou

  • chance lee

    Thank you both, Sallie and Cathy! After our relaunch this week, expect more frequent blog posts from Eric and many new guests for the fall!

    • chance lee

      And, if you tweet– @buildingbetterw is active every day!

  • sallie grayson

    so pleased to see constructive advise and real resources for students who IMHO have been mislead and exploited by many “volunteer” organisations