Money vs. Service: How should someone actually provide aid to in-need communities in developing countries?

How many people do you know who have gone on service projects in high school? Building homes, schools, hospitals, and all at the ripe age of 14. How much does this really help though? Kids spending thousands for flights to go to struggling countries, maybe twenty to thirty teens build a house or two in four weeks, but what about after? They leave, having observed the hardships of others, “bonding” with those in a different position, and learning about the other 99%. What about the unnecessary toll on the community though? It may seem like these groups are helping the community, but in reality the money spent could be put towards paying workers from the community, which could provide jobs for those in need. 

Sending teenagers with no real skills to developing countries is not only bad for the economy, but does not make a meaningful effect on communities. A few years ago, a woman named Pippa wrote about her experience in high school on volunteer abroad projects. She said, “I am not a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, a scientist, an engineer, or any other professional that could provide concrete support and long-term solutions to communities in developing countries. I am a white girl who can carry bags of moderately heavy stuff, horse around with kids, attempt to teach a class, tell the story of how I found myself (with accompanying powerpoint) to a few thousand people and not much else.” This points out the exact issues with sending teens from first world countries into developing countries to do community service—they lack necessary skills. Instead, teens spend thousands to travel to countries where they will observe the hardships of others, perhaps build a house with thirty peers, and leave with a “inspiring” college essay. Think about it this way: If thirty teens can build a house in three weeks, how long would it take paid adult workers who are actually part of the community? Definitely less than three weeks. Of course, the idea of helping others is important, but donating those thousand plus dollars that you would spend to go help people could be put towards paying workers in the community. Providing jobs to those in need. It may not be college essay worthy, but there is more of a positive impact on a community when teens donate funds rather than time.Rather than doing short term service projects which cost money to do, teens can take part in community projects from which they can build and strengthen relationships close to home. All over the country, and especially here, in New York City, there are endless ways to do community service and not have to pay to help others. Projects like the New York Common Pantry, Meals on Wheels, and numerous other food banks always need young volunteers. Not only do these projects work in our communities, they can also foster lasting relationships between volunteers and people in need.

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