Sometimes I look in the mirror and I have this existential crisis moment. I think, “that’s me in there… behind those eyes.” It’s the kind of thing you can’t think about every day or you’d go crazy—that you’re whole self, everything you are, is totally contained inside your skull. But it’s true. Everyone must think about that sometimes, and to think about it is to realize how fragile we are, how strange it is to be self aware, and how important it is to protect that delicate shell that we reside within for the entirety of our existence. For that reason I suppose we are all motivated by a certain self-interest. We are all concerned about our own survival.
I have this tendency to see the good in everything—to assume people are on the up-and-up, and to naively trust that deep down, we’re all in it for the right reasons. We are all fragile creatures just trying to make it. Of course I know people lie, steal and cheat their way through their stock of years, and in some cases I understand why: for many, life is hard and resources are scarce. But there are some people out there who fly right by survival at 100 miles-per-hour and head straight to profit. These are people who care more about accumulating wealth than they do about starving neighbors. I believe these people suffer from a deep lack of empathy. They don’t see others the same way they see themselves. They don’t look in the mirror and recognize the universal human truth about our shared frailty. They only see their own frailty, and that makes them dangerous. They’re in it for number one.
Writing about voluntouring, I am constantly reminded of the good in the world. I see the best in people because they show me their best. Whether it be a retired couple working to help children in Nepal or a photographer telling the story of families in Mexico affected by mining. But it’s very important that we not close our eyes to the people out there looking to take advantage of our generosity, our time, and our resources. The truth is, there are a shocking number of voluntour opportunities out there that are designed purely for the profit of the tour company, local officials, or third-party investors. In the coming weeks, I will profile some of these companies. They go to great lengths to convince volunteers of their legitimacy and in many cases, volunteers never learn of the deceit. For example, according to Anti-Fraud International, a man named Vally Fombe creates fake orphanages in Cameroon and then pockets the proceeds.
In a world where money talks, we all must be vigilant. Any voluntour opportunity that costs money (and most of them do) could be a scam to steal money. It’s simply the harsh reality of the world we live in. This means we can’t afford to be naïve voluntourists. We have to ask questions, research opportunities, even, if we can afford it, hire investigators. It is part of our volunteering duty to do our very best to make sure our work is helping the people we’re aiming to help.