While at school, I participated in a service project where we flew to Tanzania and taught English at a primary school for two weeks. I have since realized that such English-language voluntourism can harm children's emotional well-being, don't typically prioritize the benefit of the host country, and often carry strong racial undertones. Reading around the topic revealed that although research into the problematic framing and discourse surrounding international development exists, it often provides a primarily Western perspective.
Hence, my project aims to shift the focus onto the people development work claims to help, and address the shocking lack of African perspectives and agency within academia. I also believe this research could greatly impact the ubiquity and design of English-language voluntourism programmes, and I hope to publicize it and reach out to voluntourism organizations to start a conversation. I am Indian, placing me in the unique position of having been on both sides of this power dynamic, and I seek to initiate a dialogue and write an ethnography that acknowledges my own biases, and presents a multitude of voices.
Although fieldwork would be the ideal scenario, the pandemic situation means that I will reach out to organizations that run short-term voluntourism programmes and get in contact with schools where voluntourists have taught. I hope to survey and interview students, teachers, parents, and other adult stakeholders who have experienced teaching by voluntourists, as my main form of primary research. This will be supplemented by conversations with people working in voluntourist travel organizations, and people working to preserve and promote native languages which may be jeopardized by their exclusion from many national curriculums.
This primary research will be contrasted against public information taken from various platforms including voluntourist travel organizations' websites, and voluntourists' blogs and testimonials. My comparative approach here aims to highlight the dissonance between the rhetoric and framing of volontourist discourse, and the felt experiences of the host communities on a personal and cultural level.
Finally, the theoretical aspect of the project will be supported by a literature search for existing research on voluntourism, the politics of English-language teaching, and decolonizing education in postcolonial contexts.