What Does the 2014 U.S. Election Tell Us About Voluntourism?

Elections 2014

From Matthieu Gallard on Twitter via @ElectProject https://twitter.com/mathieugallard/status/530021844280430592/photo/1

On 4 November 2014, U.S. adults shared at least part of the country’s collective philosophy, and perhaps a philosophy that is projected out into the world: the U.S. Government is BROKEN, and changing it is seemingly a hopeless proposition!

Estimates put the turnout for the 2014 elections at the lowest level since 1942. Of course there is a great deal of speculation as to why roughly 16% of the U.S. adult, eligible voting population actually voted; however, the underwhelming turnout represents a vote in and of itself – quite possibly a lack of confidence in the government to actually accomplish anything of real, lasting, sustainable value.

And, if U.S. citizens have this view of their own government, what do you imagine is their opinion of, say, a government in a developing nation in Africa, Asia or Latin America? Could it be that some citizens of other nations may be equally disillusioned with their respective governments? If this is so, would such disillusionment motivate individuals to go to other parts of the world with the thought of serving populations which in their mind must be the victims of an even more dysfunctional public sector?

Faith in Government, or Lack Thereof, Is It Really Just a Developmental Issue?

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spoke with Jeremy Hobson of Here & Now on 7 November regarding the recent jobs report from the U.S. Here is an excerpt from that interview:

Hobson: Why do you think that voters listed the economy as their top concern and that they punished the Democrats and the Obama Administration for the lack of progress in the economy?

Perez: Well, Jeremy, I’m not a pundit so, I’m the Labor Secretary, so I’m not sure I’m the best person to extrapolate from trends. But, I do know this: the voters who voted sent a very clear message that they want Congress and the President to get things done. The voters who didn’t vote, and we had the lowest turnout in this election since 1942, and those voters were puttin’ their hands up sayin’ Washington’s broken, it’s futile for me to go out and vote. And, we need to listen to both sets of stakeholders and come together to get things done.

One might argue that the situation in Washington, DC, is not unlike it is in other parts of the world. What we have in the context of the U.S. Government is a developmental issue. It may be far easier to spot a developmental issue in a “developing” country – poverty, infrastructure & systemic failure, etc., yet the need for development is no less necessary in a “developed” country. Because these developmental processes appear as radically different, however, we are unable to see the parallels, the relevance, and the interpenetration of these processes across socio-economic, cultural, and geographic divides, in part due to the fact that it is often the “developed” world which sets the standards for developing.

Crafting a new container for our collective perception of development may help us to see the current situation with a broader perspective. Hopelessness in one system may be the current motivation for us to express hopefulness in changing another – one that is perceived to be less complex and more easily approachable. Interestingly, if individuals from a “developed” country, such as the U.S., are stepping into the world with the notion of assisting in the development of the underdeveloped, what would we say if these individuals turn out to be the ones who experience developmental change themselves?

Is Voluntourism A Symptom, A Cause, an Answer – All of the Above, None of the Above, A Combination, Something Else Entirely?!?

Voluntourism is an extraordinarily complex expression of countless cross-currents of thoughts, values, projections, ideals, opinions, and, quite possibly a need to at least feel as though an answer is possible, a change is within reach, something can be done to alleviate suffering and discomfort – “somewhere, anywhere, even if I can’t do something about it in my own community.”

The most recent video from Studentenes og Akademikernes Internasjonale Hjelpfond (SAIH) offers one interpretation of the developmental conundrum…

Were that it was as easy to shoot a video as it is to wrap our minds around what is truly happening in the context of voluntourism, eh?

The Norwegian Team of SAIH has certainly delivered a provocative, simplistic expression of voluntourism – one that we can more easily denigrate as all-seeing pluralists. And, perhaps, this is where we should leave voluntourism: another demonstration of our failed attempts at development. No one would blame us if we did.

On the other hand, might we come to discover that there is another developmental process at work here? Is it possible that voluntourism is an attempt, albeit extremely primitive, at uncovering a new approach to development? One whereby host communities can essentially participate in the developmental unfoldment of their fellow human beings?

 Final Thoughts…

The disorienting dilemma that is voluntourism offers us a unique opportunity to explore development in new ways. Eventually, we may see that voluntourism is helping all of us to expand our collective development – moving us through our current stage to a greater level of global understanding and awareness. We cannot see the object of that transition, of course, because we are still in the midst of it. When the subject of our angst becomes the object of our growth and development, the shift will have occurred.

For now, we will need our angst, our spoofs, our critiques, our cynicism, our hopelessness, and so much more to propel us on our spiraling journey to the next iteration of our collective selves. With voluntourism, it appears that we will not suffer from a lack of any of these nor the propulsion associated therewith.

What we become on the other side of this transition… well, that, my friends, I do believe, is something worthy of the wait.

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