Voluntourism : A Symptom of Contemporary Migration

I came across this article on Quartz “Instagrams’s White Saviour Barbie neatly captures what’s wrong with “voluntourism ” in Africa.” The Instagram account barbiesavior  is quite humorous take on the subject.


It’s so true…but it kind of isn’t?

It was in the Africa section of the site, after reading one remarking on how the Kenyan rugby teams triumphant return to Nairobi having been on a Qatar Airways jet was a bit of a disgrace due to the team being sponsored by Kenya Airways. Both posts were authored  by Lily Kuo, a reporter based in Nairobi. She wrote in the post “The account, started a month ago by two 20-something white women who have worked in East Africa, now has over 18,000 followers.” That link lead to an article on the Huffington Post Black Voices section, written by Zeba Blay.

Now would my blog post have more validity if I was writing from Kenya? If I hadn’t been born in France before living in Kenya at all? Or had not been schooled in the USA and Europe for all but 5 years, of which were mostly at a school established by an Italian Priest in the 60’s?

Back to migration. 3 migrants. Lily Kuo is not Kenyan. She is likely of Chinese ancestry, and previously studied, lived and worked in Europe, Asia and the USA. Zeba Blay is Ghanaian born but based in NYC working for a site co-founded by Ariana Huffington, a Greece-born American entrepreneur, that studied in the UK.

Are any of these ladies somehow displacing locals, not giving back to the locations they studied in, or somehow unfit to do what they do?

Ariana Huffington co-founded The Huffington Post. She was once a popular conservative commentator but is now a liberal which goes a way to explain why there is a section  ostensibly intended for black people to talk about black things on the site. For good or bad the website has directly influenced thousands, and indirectly millions of people. I disagree with most of the content similar to what it publishes but access to it helped me see the flaws, hypocrisy and other issues inherent in it and my own way of viewing things.

I use the example of contemporary art when we are judging recent issues in that it has yet to stand the curating process of time. Added to the greater exposure to and  access to create of art that we have today, I may be judging it in too harsh a light. Just because it is museum and gallery worthy today, does not mean it will still be up in 50 years.


This Instagram account is not damning of all volunteering in other countries, but rather the volunteering equivalent of those that go to museums to take selfies with famous art. They care much more about signaling to others that they have seen said art. It points out some positives such as the billions are spent by the volunteers and also discusses the after effects that their temporary involvement may have on those they work with (often children) and how it may displace or disenfranchise more localized efforts to address issues. Have these white creators disenfranchised some African girls from creating a similar account? This criticism of migration is often brought up when it’s ‘white’ people in ‘brown’ places, and far less socially acceptable if not outright racist when it is of people into ‘white’places.

As a life-long migrant I have had this question for myself. Where is it exactly that my efforts ‘should’ be focused. What is my effect on the different places I go to or leave? Am I taking a locals’ job, would a potential family negatively effect the community that has attracted me and provided a home?

Now on top of all that. I had the time to find this article. To think of this post. To follow that rabbit hole. Try to make it legible. Then you just read it. what does that say about the severity of the issues that may plague either of us if we do have the time to do this, versus how many things we should actually be thankful for?


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