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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Short Term Service or Another Vacation?

Short term service projects have been something that I have questioned for a while now. After watching groups go down to places like New Orleans to “help others,” I am always surprised to see those who work so hard to get their trips paid for take advantage of the hard times of people. After seeing many people fundraise to have a trip paid for, it can be frustrating to see your money going toward something other than helping others. For example, a week long trip to New Orleans to assist those still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina should be all you are working on in the time you are there. However, I have seen photos of kids wearing matching outfits that had been purchased for the trip along with tour rides of the city. Between purchasing many souvenirs and celebrating Mardi Gras, I am not quite sure where they fit in the time to contribute their unskilled help.

Although this isn’t true for all short term projects, it is not far off from the norm of short term service. Anywhere from a few days to two weeks can classify as a short term service project when traveling to another place in need. This type of vacation/service work is present in many high schools and colleges, as well as private organizations.

One of the major issues with these projects is that many of the workers are unskilled. Sending high school children to rebuild a house is counterproductive because like many of us, they do not have proper carpentry skills. An alternative to this could be to send doctors and those with useful skills required to rebuild communities to the impoverished places with the money you would spend on a plane ticket. Even those with degrees in business or financial planning could help families work with what money they have to become stable.

An example caught my eye from an article called “Short Term Missions: Are They Worth the Cost?”: “A group of 18 students raised $30,000 to work in an orphanage in Honduras during their spring break. They painted three rooms, helped clean up the playground, and played with the children during their free time. Everyone had a great time and the children loved the extra attention. A student returning from the trip remarked excitedly to a friend: ‘My trip to Honduras was such a blessing! It was so neat to see the way the staff cared for those children—and they only make about $80 a month. I really grew as a Christian by being there.’” There were 18 students, yet they painted only three rooms in one week! The example also shows that yes, the children enjoyed playing with the students as well, but, it was extra attention, and really they probably could have used some vaccinations or food instead. The most striking part of the trip to Honduras was that the volunteer called it ”their trip.” Essentially, it was theirs. They were merely another tourist group, making themselves feel more Christian.

There is sense of entitlement that is relevant in most service projects out there. Whether it be to help a country in need for a week or work with children for a few years, there is usually a sense of “I’m better than you” coming from the volunteers. But, even more belittling than the sense of entitlement is the way in which these workers feel grateful for what they have, which can give off the wrong impression. After a week of “hard times” spent with a struggling family or two, a lot of volunteers come back from their mini vacation with Facebook statuses updating you on what you should be grateful for. They seem to almost read “So thankful this family of four is starving and I was there to give them a loaf a bread… thank God I’m back in the states for a much deserved Christmas dinner!”

Instead of sending those in search for a vacation on these trips, and spending money on unnecessary items like a plane ticket for someone who is unskilled, I believe there is an alternative way to make a difference in the world of need. Starting off locally is something that is forgotten far too often. A lot of people do not realize how many people are going hungry in their own town or city. When you help those in need locally, once they are back on their feet, I believe they, too, will choose to give back, which will result in a cycle of less money being spent on souvenirs, and more time building and shaping a local community that will contribute to the big picture.