It's All Our Fault

Millions of children are starving, the glacier ice caps are melting, my latest Instagram photo didn’t get enough likes, how on Earth am I supposed to choose what to care about?

According to recent statements by the United Nations Human Rights Agency, the world faces the biggest humanitarian and human rights crisis since the end of the Second World War. This includes disheartening facts about the growing refugee crisis around the world, and just recently, UN figures stated nearly half of the Central African Republic population is in urgent need of aid.

It’s not surprising that most would find this concerning. Any human being with even the smallest amount of sympathy doesn’t want to see others suffer. But how we choose to empathise differs from person to person. Do you reach into your wallet and send your money to an organisation, do you organise with local community members about how to truly make a difference in the world, or do you tweet a trending hashtag and move on with your day? While all of these actions are meant for the greater good, a question arises on the validity of community service: has it become a trend to “give back?”

We live in an era where validation comes from social media feeds. People try their hardest to build adequate representations of their lives through photos and statuses. But does community service become less genuine when people post about it?

Coming from the United States, I first-handedly notice how many Americans have the desire to see developing nations in this world. And while it’s wonderful to want to experience new cultures and get outside of one’s comfort zone, being a responsible tourist isn’t always on the minds of travelers. A group of adorable chunky toddlers runs up and hugs you – are you really making a difference by taking a picture and posting it on Facebook? According to the latest statistics, about one in every seven South Africans are HIV positive. Did you think about that while choosing which filter to use on your picture with the nameless South African children?

I say all these things with a grain of salt because I know that if I see a herd of chubby-faced children headed my way, I sure as hell want to take a picture with them. However, I sometimes wonder what the real intentions are of various travelers who visit other countries.

Some might call it “voluntourism,” or volunteer mission mixed with a vacation so people can get the best of both worlds. In other words, people can volunteer their time at an orphanage during the week while also sipping piña coladas on the beach during the weekend.

But do the politics of our surroundings encourage us to turn a blind eye on those in need and pick and choose what we decide to care about? Maybe it’s too overwhelming to think about the struggles in the world, or maybe it’ll put too much of a drag on your day.

I ask these all as questions because I clearly do not hold the answers. All I can do is hope people have honest intentions with everything they do, and keep the vacation selfies to a minimum.