Mission trips are simply volun-tourism

Claudia Elsenbast, Staff Writer

The summer after freshman year, I was fortunate enough to attend a mission trip to Honduras through BSM. I was elated to be able to immerse myself in the culture and see the change I could make in the world. Through the trip I grew closer to my fellow Red Knights. Once I returned, I immediately logged onto Facebook to see the albums posted by my newfound best friends. Instead I found an article titled “Why you shouldn’t participate in Voluntourism and this made me  realize how my privilege and ignorance had blinded me on the trip into believing I was saving the children I met and that I was the greatest thing since sliced bread. When in all reality, I just inflated my ego and continued the white messiah stereotype.

Yes, mission trips allow students to explore service and give time to a cause they are very passionate about. However, three half days of service is barely enough time to meet those you serve, let alone make a major difference. In my time in Honduras, I spent less than 10 hours doing service before I was whisked away into the tourism part of the trip that rewarded us for the incredible work we thought we had done. The hours of service did enlighten me to a new lifestyle, but I had barely adjusted to the hour time change before I was relaxing on a beach.

Furthermore, mission trips are expensive. In all, the mission trip I attended cost roughly $15,000, including plane tickets, bus fees, personal security, hotel rooms and minimal supplies for service like paint. If this money were to be donated instead, the amount of aid or labor that could be paid for would be exponentially greater than the simple labor of painting fences posts and interacting with children my feeble arms could do in under 10 hours.

Many people in support of mission trips argue that it is the experience of helping others that is the reason for the trips. I, however, believe that since just as desperate poverty exists in our backyard, we should focus on that first before forking over thousands of dollars for a day of service and week of pleasure.

Also, leaving the US and traveling to a third world country only furthers the white messiah complex. Basically, by going out into poverty plagued areas, many upper middle class teens experience few hours actually filled service but return with stories of how “changed” they are and multiple social media posts.

Overall, mission trips are a good idea, but the way in which mine was executed lacked the experience I desired because of the brief time period of service, my privilege, and was an ineffective trip in a cost sense. Of course not all mission trips are bad, and the experience I had wasn’t unenjoyable, but I firmly believe that I not only could have done more, but was essentially useless to the people in the children’s home and Honduras.