What is Voluntouring and the White Savior Complex?

In this series of articles, I will address the concept of voluntouring and the white savior complex, the industry of poverty, fair trade and how Baskets and Beads is part of the solution vs part of the problem. We will start with addressing these terms to get a better understanding of what they mean both the positive and negative sides. The series will continue with detail about poverty as a money making activity for other than the marginalized people, and a look at how fair trade fights that. Additional posts will include the terminology that is in question and the mission of Baskets and Beads and how we are not part of this problem and how we are ensuring we don’t become part of the problem and stand up against it and continue to be a solution.

 In late 2017 I made a decision to go to Kenya on a Feb 2018 trip with a group to serve people there. I felt God’s voice that I call the whisper prompting me to go. I didn’t think about any of the underlying issues that might accompany my decision. I just felt God’s calling and I answered. When people ask me why Kenya, I say it’s not a choice, it’s a calling. For someone who doesn’t believe in God that may be a crazy idea, but it’s how I operate for my decisions and based on results the more I trust God with those decisions, the better things work out for me.

After I made the decision to go to Kenya, I had to raise the money to go. My speaking business was not generating much income so I didn’t have the extra funds to go to Kenya. That’s another story, but I humbly asked people to support me by donating so I could go on the trip. I didn’t publicize it at first but then started a GoFundMe and put it on social media.

During the fundraiser I had someone suggest I was going on a “voluntour” and wouldn’t I rather do something useful like teaching women to be entrepreneurs or other skills instead of wasting my time just “vountouring. “

I had never heard the term “voluntour “ and didn’t know what it meant. I was simply going some place God called me to go to serve humanity. I have lived a lifetime of service although I didn’t see it as that. I served 23 years in the military all over the world and in the years since I left the military, I have been on other trips to other countries and serving veterans and domestic violence victims here in the US.


Voluntourism defined is a form of tourism in which travelers participate in voluntary work, typically for a charity. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing but doing further research I have found there is a lot of exploitation from voluntarism especially of children. Many people in general are exploited by organizations claiming to do good. They take a lot of photo’s with marginalized kids and post them or go to a marginalized area somewhere, and say they made a difference to drive big funds to their non profit or garner awards or recognition for themselves or their organization. Basically it’s all smoke and mirrors to make it look like there is some genuine help going on but it’s really a cover for a self serving agenda.

Recently I came across this article addressing voluntourism and something called the “white savior complex.”: (https://wearyourvoicemag.com/voluntourism-colonialism-white-savior-complex/?fbclid=IwAR3D-BYX_dgZG7XtxIAetRxvyUt3EII4nZAuSC7L-n2RGpSbaLcOtGT81pc

The “white savior complex” is another term I had not heard and needed to do some further research after reading the article.

The term white savior complex, refers to a white person who provides help to non-white people in a self-serving or exploitive manner. The key words there are self-serving and exploitive.The exploitation could be abusive or simply using the people you are supposed to be serving as a front to make money or get the benefit for yourself.

The article mentioned above referred to colonialism, which is defined as the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.

The article also referred to the organization called “No White Saviors” - which is a movement to put a stop to the white savior complex.

This is from the No White Saviors website: WE NEVER SAID “NO WHITE PEOPLE” We just know you shouldn’t be the hero of the story

I had also never heard of the“white savior” complex but the article suggests it is colonialism wrapped up in voluntourism. Basically it’s defined as white supremacy, racism and control by white people at the expense of those they are controlling.

Looking at the history of Kenya, colonialism is what the British did to Kenya and part of Uganda. The British Empire established the East Africa Protectorate in 1895. In1920 it became known as the Kenya Colony. The independent Republic of Kenya was formed in 1963. You can find the detailed history in Wikipedia and other sites.

This is all bad and tears down the very people that are claimed to be served. That is why there are organizations like the Fair Trade Federation and numerous others to make sure the artisans in the marginalized communities are not exploited or abused and they get fair treatment, fair wages and a fair advantage to be a success. Baskets and Beads is a verified member of the Fair Trade Federation.

I’ve had a couple people bring up the “voluntour” term with me. I’ve also had people ask me snarkily how much do the women actually get, implying that I’m lining my pockets at their expense. Also the above article was posted on a FB profile of someone very close to me. I’m not sure if they were implying they thought I was one of these white savior people exploiting the women I work with but I can assure anyone reading this I am not. I addressed some of this in the last Swahili Sunday broadcast and some of the other things we are going to discuss in these posts. You can view that video below.

Discovering all these terms gave me the ability to research and learn a lot about the negative side of charity and working with marginalized communities. I think everyone needs to become aware of all sides of the issue to make sure they stay on the good side of helping people and not the self serving or exploitive side.

Next weeks blog post will address more of this issue and go into detail about the exploitation of marginalized communities especially in the chocolate industry.

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